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Kestel had believed the guardian and girl were real, but the conversations were with an undercover detective during Operation Tailspin, an Internet sex sting designed to catch people preying on children.
Kestel, who was convicted and sentenced to prison in January 2013, was one of eight men arrested in that police operation — and one of more than 1,000 people arrested in similar stings and investigations across Florida since 2010.
While such stings are conducted sporadically, children are solicited constantly online and in person, said Frank Williams, an assistant U. Attorney for the Office of the Northern District of Florida.
More than 67,000 online enticement claims have been reported to a national tipline since 1998.
Three Alachua County sheriff’s deputies stood silently behind the front door.
One gripped the handle while another leaned his body close to the wall.
After several phone calls, text messages and email exchanges, Kestel agreed to meet in Gainesville, police said. on July 21, 2012, Kestel arrived at the house and knocked on the door.
They search for victims — often 13 to 17 years old — on social-networking sites, chat rooms and online gaming.
They “groom” victims by befriending them and earning their trust, Klein said.
Gainesville has seen its share of recent child enticement cases and stings: A local swim coach was accused in April of coercing a boy to take nude photographs and sexually explicit videos of himself; a traveling musician was accused in February of soliciting a teenage girl on Facebook for sex and driving to meet her; two men, including a University of Florida student, were arrested during Operation Nightlight in January 2013.
Such crimes garner headlines and have even inspired the popular NBC Dateline show “To Catch a Predator.” Yet, the risk and publicity do little to stop perpetrators — almost always men — from preying on children.David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, said most offenders know their victims, either through school, sports or church.