Deputies: 26 charged in online child sex sting; 1 suspect sought sex on wedding anniversary



SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - Seminole County deputies said they have arrested more than two dozen men they said scoured the Internet looking for children to have sex with.

Deputies said the suspects thought they were talking to children as young as 11 years old.

"The purpose of this operation was to target those individuals who use the Internet to sexually exploit children," said Seminole County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Dennis Lemma.

Investigators said the suspects were arrested in a five-day sting called Operation Safe Net that began Wednesday.

"Twenty-six men traveled to Seminole County with the belief that they would be engaging in sexual activity with children they believe to be between the ages of 11 and 14 years old," said Lemma.

Investigators said the suspects ranged in age from 19 to 51, some being working professionals and others students.

"Single and married men, a postal worker, security guard, two pizza delivery men, landscapers," said Lemma, describing some of the men.

According to investigators, some of the men traveled from other states and some came from nearby cities after undercover deputies spent hours online with them.

"They often asked at times if we were law enforcement officers, but the appeal of meeting a child for sex was too strong, and they came to the house anyway," said Lemma.

One of the suspects, Zachary Purdue, 24, was arrested with pictures of children exposing themselves on his cellphone, authorities said.

Another man arrived carrying a gun to meet a child for sex.

"He came to meet a 14-year-old girl to have sex and he was carrying a firearm.  That was concerning," said Sgt. Mike Cannaday, of the Crimes Against Children Unit.

Investigators said suspect Justin Gray tried to meet with a child on the day of his wedding anniversary.

"It was his anniversary.  It was on their Facebook page what a great day they had, and he rounded it out by coming to our operation and attempted to have sex with a minor," said Cannaday.