A 29-year-old Plant City man was sentenced in a plea deal Tuesday for charges related to an undercover sex sting that yielded 22 arrests last year in Sumter County.

The man allegedly traveled to a Wildwood home to meet what he believed was an uncle and his 14-year-old nephew for a sexual encounter.

Police claim he answered an online ad and made phone contact with an undercover detective who he thought was a minor and apparently expressed interest in having sex with the juvenile and uncle.

The man was arrested after showing up at the home.

He was sentenced to 42 months in prison in a plea deal on charges of using the Internet to lure a guardian for sex with a child and traveling to meet a minor for sex.

The March sting operation dubbed “STARCOP,”  or Searching, Targeting and Reacting to Catch Online Predators apparently involved chats, emails, text messaging and phone calls that answered online ads offering sex with children in a Wildwood home. The so-called children were actually Internet personas created by undercover detectives.

Undercover officials  from Sumter, Lake and Citrus counties, as well as Florida Department of Law Enforcement, took part in the operation.

According to police, only seven more suspects arrested in the operation need to be prosecuted.

Some have accepted plea deals, while others have been found guilty in jury trials.

The trial of one of the remaining suspects, a 38-year-old Crystal River man, was under way Wednesday in the Sumter County courthouse.

With the popularity of the NBC show “To Catch a Predator,” law enforcement has been placed under tremendous pressure to stop supposed predators from committing the crime of traveling to meet a minor. Police on the local and state level have amped up their efforts to catch suspects believed to be looking for sex with minors by conducting more and more undercover sex sting operations. Typically, their tactics involve posting ads on various web sites or in chat rooms to establish initial contact. Their methods usually involve masquerading as a minor, and more recently, the parent, guardian or relative of a child, offering sex with their child. After contact has been made, communication usually escalates to telephone calls or text messages. The sting is concluded once the suspect travels to meet what they presume to be a minor.

One of the most common defenses to combatting a charge of traveling to meet a minor is entrapment. Police are not legally allowed to coerce an innocent person into creating a crime that they had no intention of committing. This defense can readily apply when an undercover official poses as a parent, guardian or relative of a child. Many times, the alleged suspect is merely interested in having sex with the adult, and not the child. Often, undercover detectives posing as a guardian of a child will only agree to a sexual encounter if the person also has sex with the minor. If the person had no intentions of having sexual contact with the child and only agreed to after being persuaded by law enforcement to do so, then an entrapment defense may apply.

Traveling to meet a minor is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. In addition to prison time, a person convicted of this crime must register as a sexual offender, possibly for life. Being charged with any type of sex crime involving a minor is a serious offense, and should never be taken lightly. The first step towards attacking any charges against you is to contact The Villages Sex Crimes Lawyers. We can explore the State’s case against you and establish a powerful defense for your unique situation.

If you or someone you care for has been charged with traveling to meet a minor in Lake, Sumter or Marion County, contact The Villages Sex Crimes Lawyers at Whittel & Melton online or call 352-369-5334.