By Mason W. Canales
Killeen Daily Herald
An Internet sex sting conducted in Florida this summer ended last week and snared two Fort Hood soldiers who are suspected sexual predators.
Six counts of transmission of child pornography are pending with the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office in Florida against Staff Sgt. Gary William West, 38, of Fort Hood.
Also, the Martin County Sheriff's Office in Florida has charged Adam N. Bell, 25, of Killeen, with lewd and lascivious exhibition to a minor via the Internet.
In West's case, an affidavit filed with the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office alleges that West sent a number of images containing children under the age of 12 engaging in sexual activity with adults, using an America Online account over the span of several weeks.
West is currently serving in Iraq, according to information from the St. Lucie Sheriff's Office. U.S. Army officials seized West's computer and are conducting an investigation.
In Bell's case, the Martin County Sheriff's Office said Bell performed sexual acts on a Web cam, and the images were sent to someone he believed was a 14-year-old girl.
Bell and West are soldiers stationed at Fort Hood, said Col. Diane Battaglia, a III Corps spokeswoman.
While charges have either been filed or are pending against both soldiers, it is unknown by the Florida authorities if they have been arrested.
"If there is a warrant that is issued to someone who is stationed at this installation, then they should be coming through this installation," Battaglia said. "And to the best of my knowledge, they have not come through this installation."
If a soldier is charged, he needs to appear in court for that warrant, Battaglia said. It is a soldier's obligation to appear before the court that is making the charges against them, she added.
The Internet sex sting undertaken in Florida is an investigation that has been run for two years during the summer. It was called Operation Safe Summer II, Florida law enforcement officials said.
"We know that every summer kids are out of school, and they are probably on the Internet more," said Lt. Jenell Atlas, of the Martin County Sheriff's Office. "It is just natural to do an investigation like this because we know that kids are more susceptible to being victimized."
The investigation was handled by three Florida counties, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Port St. Lucie Police Department, and several federal organizations, including the FBI.
The sting was conducted from May to September and caught a total of 53 suspected Internet sexual predators, authorities said.
"Anytime you do an operation like this you always want zero," Atlas said. The hope is that the crimes will stop, but that is not the case, she said.
A search of the Fort Hood ZIP code in the Texas Department of Public Safety sex offender registry located seven registered sex offenders living on post. One of them is West. Their risk levels range from unknown to high.
Army regulations allow convicted sex offenders to remain on active duty and on post, but cases are reviewed individually, Battaglia said.
She said regulations allow a commander to consider the severity of the civilian offense, extenuating circumstances and the soldier's potential for further service in the Army.
Contact Mason W. Canales at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7554