Sunday, December 2, 2007

Ft. Lauderdale man arrested for molestation in Polk

Man had traveled for sex with teen girl
April Hunt

Sentinel Staff Writer

8:27 PM EST, December 2, 2007

A 39-year-old Fort Lauderdale man was in Polk County Jail Sunday, after deputies found him in a Lakeland motel with a 14-year-old girl.

Richard Roland Gagnon Jr. told Polk County deputy sheriffs that he met the girl on her MySpace page and began talking to her via instant messages on the computer and on a cell phone.

Gagnon said he had traveled to Polk County five times since the summer, taking the girl to local motels four different times for sexual encounters. He admitted to deputies that he knew his victim's age, two years shy of Florida's age of consent, authorities said.

Polk Sheriff Grady Judd, who has targeted Internet pedophiles, called the arrest a classic example of a predator grooming a child to become a victim.

"His communication progressed from messages to chat rooms to being on the phone, to meeting in person," Judd said Sunday. "Some ask what kind of little girl is it that would go with him. She's a young lady who has been successfully attacked by a pedophile."

Gagnon had convinced the victim that the pair had a relationship, Judd said. She sneaked out to meet him Friday night, leaving a note for her mother that she would be gone for a week, investigators said.

The mother found the letter early Saturday and immediately called the Sheriff's Office. After talking with the girl's friends, deputies found her with Gagnon at the Motel 6 on U.S. Highway 98.

Deputies had break down the door to get into the room, Judd said.

Detectives interviewed the girl then returned her home. The Sheriff's Office will work with her to get counseling as the case progresses, Judd said.

Gagnon remains in jail on three counts each of lewd battery and lewd molestation in connection with the latest incident. He also faces charges of interference with child custody, enticing a child via the Internet and traveling to meet a minor.

The Sheriff's Office is investigating previous trips that Gagnon made, as well as whether he has other victims. More charges are likely, Judd said.

"This guy portrays himself as this little girl's knight in shining armor, who understands her," Judd said. "Kids going through puberty are very fragile and can be easily manipulated. It's scary."

The Polk Sheriff's Office has made more than 100 arrests of child predators and pornographers this year.

The agency conducted two high-profile stings earlier this year, targeting men looking for sex with boys and girls they meet on the Internet. The operations netted nearly four dozen arrests, including a Homeland Security employee and a youth hockey coach.

Judd noted many of those arrested in the stings drove long distances to meet who they thought was a teen girl home alone, including some who made the four-hour trip from South Florida as Gagnon did.

In July, the Sheriff's Office launched its own page on MySpace, an online social-networking site. Detectives wanted youths to put the agency at the top of their "friends" list in the hopes that seeing the department's badge would thwart sexual predators from contacting the child.

Judd did not know whether Gagnon's victim had added the agency as a friend on her page. But he encouraged other parents to make sure that their kids had taken that precaution for their own MySpace pages.

"Some good can come out of this very sad event if some other parents take the step to know what their kids are doing online, to make sure they are not victims like this 14-year-old girl," Judd said.

April Hunt can be reached at 407-420-6269 or

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