WINTER HAVEN (FOX 13) - The Polk County Sheriff's Office announced Wednesday that 42 people were arrested as a result of an investigation focusing on child predators. One additional suspect, detectives say, is still at large.
According to PCSO, 18 of the suspects charged had engaged in the promotion, possession, and distribution of child pornography.
Some of the child porn uncovered during the investigation involved infants, Sheriff Grady Judd said.
Detectives are still searching for one suspect who is wanted on 84 counts of child pornography. Sheriff Judd is asking the community to help locate Matthew Sutton so that he can be taken into custody.
The investigation, which began in January, also involved compliance checks on sex offenders, predators and probationers. Dozens of individuals were found to be in violation for failure to register as a sex offender and 21 were consequently arrested.
Three others were arrested during the investigation, but not in relation to sex crimes.
Together, the 43 suspects involved in the bust have 892 current criminal charges, 216 previous felony charges, and 145 previous misdemeanor charges.
One of those arrested, Erik Gorden, is a child counselor at Peace River Center. He is charged with 48 counts of possession of child pornography. PCSO says there is no indication at this time that Gorden has engaged in any unsavory behavior with the children at Peace River.
Another of the arrested is an 82-year-old former high school teacher who was last charged for a sex crime when he was 79.
"Our children are this community's most precious resource. We must do everything we can to protect them," said Sheriff Grady Judd in a statement about the case. "During operations such as this one, we proactively look for suspects who prey upon children, either through the collection and distribution of child pornography, or through their non-compliance with sexual predator and offender registration rules, including their evasive efforts to gain access to children through the Internet and social media. Our detectives have done an outstanding job they are guardians who protect the innocent."
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