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Sarasota Florida Sheriff: Online sex stings will continue

  • 03 Oct 2019 12:20 PM
    Message # 7916469
    John (Administrator)

    https://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20191002/sarasota-sheriff-online-sex-stings-will-continue


    Despite the reservations of local defense attorneys and the recent suicide of a suspect, Sarasota Sheriff Tom Knight said his detectives will continue their online sex stings.


    SARASOTA COUNTY — Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office detectives have arrested 133 people since 2011 in an ongoing internet sting aimed at protecting children from online predators.


    Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight says that his detectives are trained to meet standards set by the International Crimes Against Children and the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking — worldwide groups that combat human trafficking and provide support for victims. They are trained to make sure they do not violate someone’s constitutional rights. They also work in concert with the State Attorney’s Office on their methods, the sheriff added.


    “We have had zero cases dropped by the state attorney,” Knight said.


    But some local defense attorneys say the secret operations are targeting men on adult dating sites who are not looking to break the law.


    “When the people aren’t biting right away they have to convince them,” Sarasota attorney Varinia Van Ness says. “There is some truth about people who do stuff on the internet and fantasize, but I find the behavior of law enforcement in pursuing males to be a violation of due process. It’s entrapment.”


    Van Ness said that evidence in conversations shows some defendants in these cases aren’t seeking minors.


    After each of the first six operations, Knight met with media to talk about the roundup, offering video and a poster with the suspects’ booking photos. That streak ended with Operation Intercept VII, which was announced in a press release.


    Knight did not comment on why the press conference was not held, but one of the defendants, Hamid Keshmirian, 62, bonded out of jail Sept. 20 and died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.


    On Sept. 18, according to his arrest report, Keshmirian solicited an undercover detective, who was portraying a 14-year-old girl, for sex through the adult chatting app “Skip the Games” using the name “Tony.” He made “lewd and lascivious” conversation, the report said. He allegedly agreed to pay the undercover detective $200.


    Keshmirian traveled from Bradenton to a home in Sarasota on Sept. 19 to meet the girl, but was taken into custody without incident. He admitted to detectives to agreeing to pay money for sex. He was arrested and charged with soliciting a child to commit sex and lewd or lascivious battery.


    While Keshmirian ultimately attempted to carry out his plan to meet the undercover detective, audio conversations he had with the detective showed he was leery of meeting an underage girl. He appeared hesitant and on one occasion turned down the detective’s offer to meet. He later reconsidered and was arrested.

    Sarasota defense attorney Derek Byrd said government is going too far to catch a “bad guy.”


    “No one, including myself, has much sympathy for an adult seeking to have sex with a child,” Byrd said. “However, at some point we have to ask ourselves, at what point is the government going too far and crossing the line into entrapment to catch an alleged bad guy. Law enforcement is clearly going on to adult dating sites in an effort to ensnare an alleged sex offender. Law enforcement should be expending the resources going on websites that minors and children actually frequent. I have seen no real evidence that children or minors go on adult dating sites looking for adult partners. This is a fantasy created solely by law enforcement.”


    Knight says his detectives are abiding by the law and if adults prey on children they should be charged. He wants those who would take advantage of children to know they could be on the other side.


    “Our hopes would be that he disengages,” said Knight, noting that suspects have arrived to meet-ups with cocaine, guns, condoms and sex toys. “We want them to believe that anytime they contact someone underage this could be a detective of the Sheriff’s Office.”.


    Knight said he is sympathetic to the family of Keshmirian, but said Keshmirian knew what he was doing was wrong.


    “It’s unfortunate. I’m sorry for their loss,” Knight said. “I wish he wouldn’t have shown up to have sex with a 14 year-old girl. I’m sympathetic, I don’t want anyone to lose their lives.”

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