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SWFL group’s efforts lead to deputy’s arrest in child predator investigation

A man sworn under oath to serve and protect was caught preying on someone who he believed was a teenage girl. Members of an online group talked with a deputy for months until there was enough evidence against him. It’s a breakthrough for the work team members have conducted together to catch predators.

Southwest Florida Exposure Group helped investigate Charlotte County Deputy Martin William Allen, 41, who was arrested Sunday after he believed he was agreeing to meet with a 15-year-old girl.

The exposure group’s team members were not police officers, sheriff’s deputies or undercover agents. Instead, they were convicted felons and others who spent 10 months building a case against a suspected child predator they identified online.

When enough evidence was gathered, the group contacted Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office. While the sheriff’s office made the arrest, CCSO investigators didn’t work the case until the very end.

“It’s heart wrenching that somebody can even have that mindset and try to take advantage of it as a child,” said Rebecca Freeman with Southwest Florida Exposure Group. “It’s just disgusting.”

The sheriff’s office says Allen thought he was talking to a 15-year-old girl online for almost a year. Instead, he was talking to a group of people determined to find and catch child predators.

According to the arrest report, Allen hoped “Mandy,” as he knew her, would send him nude photos and do much more.

“That’s law enforcement, that’s a cop, a deputy on the force, and he was one,” said Lee Bassett with Southwest Florida Exposure Group.

Bassett is a convicted felon himself. He has a history of drunk driving and battery. He told us his service with the group is his way to make up for his own mistakes.

His goal is to be convincing to potential online predators on social media.

“Try to find ways to say I’m not even legal enough to drive,” Bassett said. “I wait for them to get sexual. We don’t make the first move or anything like that. I tell them I’m a virgin.”

This arrest is a first for the Southwest Florida Exposure Group. Never before did their work put someone behind bars. Investigators do not believe this deputy spoke to any other young victims on social media.

FGCU professor David Thomas, a former police officer, told us citizen groups are an important resource for law enforcement because of the large number of predators.

“It’s just about impossible. It’s a crapshoot at best,” Thomas said. “So they have groups like this. It’s beneficial.”

MORE: FBI- Protecting Your Kids

Reporter:Anika Henanger
Rich Kolko
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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