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Air Force aiding Florida police in sex stings

Aug. 26, 2014 - 06:36PM   |  
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CLEARWATER, FLA. — Not only have Central Florida law enforcement officers violated federal rules in conducting “To Catch a Predator”-inspired sex stings, but WTSP in Tampa has learned they may also violate longstanding federal law that prohibits the use of military resources to enforce state laws.

While Tampa Bay-area law enforcement agencies refuse to turn over public records from questionable “predator” roundups, court records show that a member of the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI) has been a regular participant in Central Florida undercover stings for more than a year.

In a recent deposition, the agent indicated his goal was to trap service members who might be willing to break the law. But he also admitted to targeting, and helping arrest, civilians. According to an operation plan from a recent Pinellas County sting, Agent William Glidewell, acted as a “chatter,” communicating with potential investigative targets online. He was put up in a Clearwater Beach hotel for four days and reported to the sting’s lead agencies, the Clearwater Police Department and Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s odd that you would have a military (investigator) being so treated like civilian law enforcement,” said Charles Rose, a Stetson Law professor and retired U.S. Army prosecutor in the Judge Advocate General (or JAG) Corps. “You cannot assign military personnel -- on orders -- to a (local law enforcement) organization.”

Unlike the original “To Catch a Predator” stings, which posted suggestive ads indicating the availability of children, detectives in recent Central/West Florida operations began reaching out to otherwise law-abiding men who posted ads themselves on legal dating sites. An ACLU leader has called for a federal review of the stings.

Violation of federal law

Now, a number of the prosecutions could be in jeopardy with the discovery that the Air Force OSI agent may have broken the law with his involvement.

A court motion filed last week by defense attorney Peter Aiken in Pinellas County contends a civilian case from April’s “Operation Home Alone II” that Glidewell participated in should be immediately dismissed on the violation of the longstanding Posse Comitatus Act.

The federal law, which dates back to Reconstruction and Southern aversion to Northern influence, mandates the military may not be used to enforce local laws. Violations are considered felonies, although Rose couldn’t remember a case ever being prosecuted.

Aiken’s motion contends “the Clearwater police, over the course of four days, made direct, active use of Glidewell, the ‘military investigator’ to execute purely state laws” and “in this case, it is particularly egregious in that it was counseled, planned and executed with the knowledge and consent of numerous members of state law enforcement.”

Other law enforcement agencies involved in the Clearwater/Pinellas sting include the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, St. Petersburg police, Department of Homeland Security, FBI and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

Several agencies had no immediate response to questions about the Air Force’s involvement, but Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, interviewed after a recent press conference, said he “didn’t know” how or why the military investigator got involved.

“I think (OSI) got involved because (there was a target) from MacDill (Air Force Base) and I think they got involved because of that on the backside,” Gualtieri said, indicating the agent wasn’t a part of the initial sting plan.

But documents obtained through court records, after the Pinellas sheriff’s office would not turn them over, indicated the Air Force OSI had been involved from the early planning stages of not just the April “Operation Home Alone II” sting, but the January “Operation Home Alone” sting as well.

Furthermore, OSI Agent Glidewell admitted in a recent deposition that he had been a part of multiple stings around the state for almost a year. Glidewell works out of Detachment 340 at MacDill, but reports to Air Force leaders in Quantico, Virginia.

The Air Force said OSI agents are involved with internet crimes against children task forces across the U.S. and typically get involved after a service member is identified in a sting. That was not the case in Pinellas County.

Rose, from Stetson Law, said aside from entrapment and posse comitatus issues, there should be concern regarding how the Air Force investigators are prioritizing their time.

“Every moment that OSI has been doing this work, for free, for the civilian government, is a time where he’s not out investigating military cases and handling military issues,” Rose said. “If you have military members engaging in criminal activity, it very often has a national security component.”

Targeting service members

The Air Force OSI agent said in his deposition that his goal was to identify service members who may commit crimes. It included posting ads specifically designed to get responses from service members, including posting military seals and referencing “men in uniform.”

However, Gualtieri denied knowing anything about ads that target service members.

“I haven’t seen anything to that, and I don’t know if that’s the case. If someone says ‘targeting men in uniform,’ that doesn’t necessarily mean the military either. It could be any one of a number of different things. There are all kinds of uniforms out there, and it doesn’t necessarily mean the military.”

In his deposition with attorney Aiken, the Air Force investigator said he had worked on a handful of other stings around the state, with other civilian men arrested. Depending on what the judge rules on Aiken’s motion, the case could impact several other prosecutions.

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