Tamarac man accused of recruiting child porn victim through Fortnite

TAMARAC. FLA. (WSVN) - - Authorities have arrested a Tamarac man accused of recruiting a teenage girl for pornographic purposes through the popular online game Fortnite.

According to the Florida Attorney General’s Office, 41-year-old Anthony Gene Thomas was charged with 22 counts of child pornography and other charges for unlawful sex with a minor.

Thursday night, one of Thomas’ neighbors said she was shocked to hear the news.

“I don’t know what to say. I’m freaking out, just right next door,” said Yahaira Quiles.

“It started with a missing juvenile out of Brevard County,” said Broward Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Thomas McInerney.

BSO deputies found the missing Central Florida girl in Tamarac, accompanied by Thomas, after her concerned family contacted the Brevard Sheriff’s Office.

The 17-year-old was safely brought back home, but BSO deputies said they were suspicious of the much older Thomas and a co-conspirator.

“We started looking into it a bit deeper,” said McInerney, “at which point in the investigation we found out that she was being exploited.”

Authorities learned the teen was lured into a sexual relationship over the summer, which started online.

“They made contact with the victim via the ‘Fortnite’ gaming platform, which is a popular game today, obviously,” said McInerney. “There is a communication aspect to that, a chatting aspect to that. A lot of children are on there, so predators out there know that children are there.”

“It’s an online game, a bunch of kids play it,” said Quiles. “They talk to each other. They use headphones to talk to each other.”

Officials said Thomas and the co-conspirator then brought the victim to Broward County and engaged in sexual activity with the victim.

Law enforcement eventually arrested Thomas after a search warrant unveiled photos and videos of the victim.

“This case is disturbing not only because it involves child pornography but also because a popular online game was used to communicate with the victim,” said Attorney General Ashley Moody. “We have reason to believe there could be additional victims, and I am asking anyone with information about the recruiting of minors for child pornography, or any other type of sexual exploitation, to call law enforcement immediately.”

Investigators said the co-conspirator would contact victims and develop a relationship with them. Afterward, the co-conspirator would introduce them to Thomas, who would then manipulate them with gifts and a cellphone so they could communicate directly.

Officials said Thomas’ arrest serves as a warning to parents and children.

“Parents need to know that predators will use any means possible to target and exploit a child,” Moody said. “I am asking parents and guardians to please make sure you know who your children meet online and talk to them about sexual predators.”

Authorities believe there may be as many as 20 victims.

If you have any information on this crime, call Broward County Crime Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS.

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