SeaWorld has been riddled with scandal over its treatment of killer whales in captivity, ever since the gripping documentary Blackfish broke the surface in 2013.
But SeaWorld may have bigger fish to fry.
Following a seven-day sting operation by the Polk County Florida Sheriff’s office, 18 men were arrested for soliciting sex with teenagers at SeaWorld and Walt Disney World, an Inquisitr article said.
The criminal lineup included Arthur Joseph Nelson, 19, of Orlando, a janitor at SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove park.
Nelson was the youngest of the 18 suspects, according to a report by Daily Mail. The police reported that he was arrested when on his way to meet someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl.
The “teenage girl,” unfortunately for Nelson, turned out to be a police officer.
He had sent the girl pictures of his genitals and had stopped at Walmart to buy condoms.
He admitted to police that he knew the girl was 14 years old. He said that he had previously chatted with underage girls, but it was the first time he had “done something like this,” and he was “high” and “horny.”
When they searched his car, officers found a glass pipe with marijuana residue.
Nelson was slapped with the following charges:
- using a two-way communication device to commit a felony
- using a computer to seduce a child
- traveling to meet a minor
- attempted lewd battery
- transmitting harmful materials to a minor
- possession of paraphernalia
Becca Bides, director of communications at SeaWorld, told CNN that the company takes child predators very seriously.
‘There is no greater responsibility than protecting the safety of our guests and ambassadors, and we have extensive measures in place including pre-employment criminal background checks and ongoing proactive security measures within our parks. We have zero tolerance for potential safety threats and have taken swift and appropriate action in this case.”
Polk County, Florida, Sheriff Grady Judd said on Tuesday that the sting was called “Operation April’s Fools.” It took place from March 29 until April 4.
The men arrested were responding to online ads from undercover detectives posing as children or custodians of children, Fox43 reported.
“Child predators are dangerous and out of control. They prowl the internet for your children — children as young as 10 years old — to teach them how to have sex. They arrive with candy and condoms and they leave in handcuffs and a one-way ride to the Polk County Jail.”
Disney, SeaWorld employees arrested in child predator sex sting https://t.co/RF8PtTKzr2
— WPMT FOX43 (@fox43) April 7, 2016
It’s not the first time SeaWorld employees have been involved in crimes of this nature, Fox43 reported.
“A 2014 CNN investigation found that 35 Disney employees as well as two SeaWorld and five Universal employees had been arrested since 2006 for sex crimes involving children, trying to meet a minor for sex or for possession of child pornography. The parks all said at the time they have a zero tolerance policy for such behavior and require all employees to undergo extensive background checks.”
According to the article, all the alleged crimes occurred outside the theme parks, with the exception of two, which involved possession of child pornography on Disney property. None of the cases involved children or teenagers visiting the parks.
Disney World, SeaWorld workers arrested in Florida sex sting https://t.co/XYgX3B8FOE
— TIME.com (@TIME) April 5, 2016
In the April’s Fools 2016 sting, Judd said there were two theme park employees.
“Despite our many child predator stings and CNN national investigative reports, there are two theme park employees — one of which was a security guard and a volunteer football coach at a Christian school, who were among the 18 caught in our most recent sting.”
Nelson was granted a pretrial release and a plea has not been entered, according to court records.
Bides has since reported that Nelson has been fired from his job at SeaWorld.
[Image via Miles Away Photography/Shutterstock]