PINELLAS COUNTY, FA (USA TODAY) -- Not only have Central Florida law enforcement officers violated federal rules in conducting "To Catch a Predator"-inspired sex stings, but 10 Investigates 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 continue to refuse to turn over public records from questionable "predator" roundups, 10 Investigates has learned through court records that a member of the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations (OSI) has been a regular member of Central Florida undercover stings for more than a year.
In a recent deposition, the agent indicated his goal was to try and trap service members who might be willing to break the law. But he also admitted to targeting -- and helping arrest -- civilians as well. According to an operation plan from a recent Pinellas County sting, the 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 Army JAG Corps member. "You cannot assign military personnel -- on orders -- to a (local law enforcement) organization."
10 Investigates previously showed how the sex stings were taking valuable resources away from other areas of law enforcement and frequently targeted young men who were merely looking for women their own age.
Also, unlike the original "To Catch a Predator" stings, which posted suggestive ads indicating 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.
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 January's "Operation Home Alone II" that Glidewell participated in should be immediately dismissed on the violation of the longstandingPosse 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 having been 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."
The series of sex stings in Central Florida has included an investigator from the Air Force.
Other law enforcement agencies involved in the Clearwater/Pinellas sting include the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, St. Petersburg police, Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the agency which oversees Central Florida's Internet Crimes Against Children task force, 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 refused to turn them over, indicated the Air Force OSI had been involved from the early planning stages of the January sting.
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 ofDetachment 340 at MacDill, but reports to Air Force leaders in Quantico, Virginia.
"AFOSI is involved in numerous Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Forces throughout the United States," an Air Force spokesperson from MacDill told 10 Investigates. "In all instances, AFOSI will work with ICAC Task Forces whenever an Air Force member is investigated by the Task Force. If an Air Force member is identified, AFOSI will assist with the investigation ... as a member of this ICAC Task Force, AFOSI agents use ICAC cyber tools and resources to identify Air Force members or other military members that are engaged in the online exploitation of children."
An Air Force spokesperson in Quantico, Virginia, also indicated OSI agents typically get involved after a servicemember is identified in a sting, rather than before, as was 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."
One of the non-servicemembers the Air Force OSI agent helped apprehend in "Operation Home Alone" this spring was not looking for children. He was tricked by Glidewell into meeting what he thought was an 18-year-old woman interested in him.
Glidewell forgot -- or simply failed -- to switch his decoy's age from 18 years old to that of a 14 year old girl after he started chatting with a man he met online. While the "switch" typically happens soon after the "bait" in Central Florida stings, 10 Investigates found detectives don't always follow the rules, either.
Court records reveal Glidewell and the defendant, from Miami, swapped 200 messages over the course of two days, including some sexual. The two ultimately made plans to meet at the decoy's house on Clearwater Beach. It wasn't until the defendant had driven 300 miles to the sting location that Glidewell realized he was still playing the part of an 18 year old woman and told the defendant "she" was really only 14.
Seemingly uneasy and confused, the defendant found a hotel to stay at for the night. But the two continued the conversation, and the defendant said he wanted to meet the girl who showed so much interest in him over the last two days. They made plans to meet, and he was arrested for traveling to meet a minor.
During his deposition for the case, Glidewell acknowledge the defendant wasn't the kind of man the stings were supposed to target. But like so many other men arrested, he ultimately gave in to the bait-and-switch and has paid the price for it. His family, job, and financial futures have all been adversely impacted, even if charges are ultimately dropped.
The Air Force OSI agent said in his deposition that his goal was to identify servicemembers who may commit crimes. It included posting ads specifically designed to get responses from servicemembers, including posting military seals and referencing "men in uniform."
However, Gualtieri denied knowing anything about ads that target servicemembers:
"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 -- that would be a guess on your part or anyone else's rat as to what that means. But I'd have to see it, and I'm not aware of it."
In his deposition with attorney Aiken, the Air Force investigator said he had worked on a handful of other stings around the state, with a handful of other civilian men arrested. Depending on what the judge rules on Aiken's motion, the posse comitatus argument could impact several other prosecutions, and possibly even some already-adjudicated cases.