tampabay.com

Men are greeted by cops, cameras

Four Hillsborough County men are among 28 arrested in a child sex sting.

By ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published April 3, 2007


TAMPA - One by one, the men came to the door of the tidy suburban home, a Florida state flag flying out front.

Each expected a young girl or boy to answer the door.

Instead, they were greeted by law enforcement investigators, television cameras and handcuffs.

The weeklong sting, called Operation Cyber Hawk, targeted adults who lure children in online chat rooms. The Polk County Sheriff's Office headed the multiagency project, which led to 28 arrests, including four Hillsborough County men and three Disney employees.

"We take matters like this very seriously," said Walt Disney World Resort spokeswoman Zoraya Suarez. "The cast members have been placed on unpaid leave."

Suarez said the men passed criminal background checks when they were hired. She declined to say whether they had direct contact with children.

Among those arrested were a 55-year-old Ormond Beach man with a master's degree in elementary education, employed by Disney's Animal Kingdom.

A Tampa man showed up at the house with beer and pornographic movies.

An unemployed Kissimmee man brought brass knuckles. He got lost and called the home's phone. A deputy, pretending to be the child, gave him directions.

"The message is very clear," said Polk sheriff's spokeswoman Donna Wood. "We won't tolerate anyone preying on our children."

Those arrested from Hillsborough County were: Milton Roe, 42, of 6308 Bridgecrest Drive in Lithia; Anthony Boromei, 32, of 9918 Bayler Run Drive in Tampa; Manuel Hernandez, 31, of 9312 N 27th St. in Tampa; and Shane Wietrecki, 28, of 6002 Cricket Hollow Drive in Tampa, deputies say. Initial news reports misspelled three names, based on an incorrect sheriff's news release. Each man faces charges of soliciting a minor via the Internet.

The youngest was 18-year-old Michael Jackson, a student at a Christian school. The eldest was Richard Gaugh, the 55-year-old Disney employee. Others include a production manager for an Orlando television station and a University of Florida student.

One man, Maurice "Mo" Mohamed M. Fathy, lives in New Jersey, deputies say. An IBM sales consultant, he came to an Embassy Suites in Altamonte Springs for a work conference. He left his hotel for what he thought was a meeting with a young teen, deputies say.

After investigators read the men their rights, reporters asked questions.

Wood insisted the scenario was quite different from the popular Dateline NBC television show, "To Catch a Predator," where reporters and law enforcement join to find child predators. The show has been criticized for ethical issues, particularly after Texas prosecutor Louis "Bill" Conradt Jr. fatally shot himself after his house was surrounded by police and television cameras.

In this case, the men were arrested first, and reporters played no role in that process, Wood said.

"I'm sure that it does seem similar to Dateline, however, we don't conduct our investigations the way they do," she said. "Reporters weren't confronting the suspects. The officers and the agents arrested the men."

Information from the Orlando Sentinel was used in this report. News researcher Angie Drobnic Holen contributed. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com.