Son of Ocala city council president among 22 men arrested for seeking sex from children
OCALA, Fla. (WCJB) - It was an April fools trick that got several dangerous individuals out of the community. For the last six days, detectives from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), and police officers from Belleview, Dunnellon, Ocala and Gainesville, along with national agencies ran ‘Operation: April Fools.’
They were hunting sex predators.
“Most of y’all know me, I think they’re pieces of sh—,” Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said during a press conference Tuesday morning. The air was tense as he spoke about the mission.
Detectives ended up arresting 22 men accused of seeking sex from minors. During the undercover operation, investigators posed as teens ranging from age 12 to 16. According to a press release from MCSO, 19 “men engaged in sexually explicit conversations” with the children who ultimately traveled to Marion County with the expectation of having sex with them.
Eight of those 22 men who live outside of Marion County, but still engaged in these conversations, had warrants issued for their arrest. Law enforcement has arrested three of them so far, while five are still “actively being sought.”
“Now it infuriates me. As a father it, my blood boils to think that this occurs on a regular basis,” Woods said. “Evil doesn’t sleep. Evil doesn’t rest. Evil doesn’t take a break. Evil seeks out every second of life to destroy what is good in this world.”
During the press conference, Sheriff Woods also highlighted two of the men arrested. One, he said, traveled to Marion County with intention of meeting up with a 12-year-old paraplegic child. Another man, Woods added, instructed a teen to go out in the middle of a field naked and wait for him.
“I can not express the importance you parents have of ensuring that you know what your child is doing on the computer,” Woods said. “Because I promise you, I know what these sh—heads are doing.”
But one of the most prominent names on the list - Ire Bethea Jr. TV20 confirmed with Ocala city staff, he’s the son of City Council President, Ire Bethea Sr.
According to the deputy report, Bethea Jr. thought he was meeting a 14-year-old for oral sex. Detectives said he used the internet webpage “Skip the Games” which is used “to facilitate meetings between persons looking for/to exchange money for sexual favors.”
A Florida Department of Law Enforcement Agent (who’s name has been retracted from the report) created the persona “Ms Jessi” - a 19-year-old female escort in Ocala. The page advertised several different “sex acts”, the report states, including oral, vaginal and anal sex. Bethea Jr. reached out the profile.
During a text exchange, “Ms Jessi” confessed to being 14-years-old. Bethea Jr. proceeded with the transaction. It was 10:08p.m. when he was arrested at the Qwik King gas station at 3128 SW 27th Ave. in Ocala.
While in custody, as agents were writing up the affidavit, officers observed the defendant “speaking to himself while in an interview room.” He made several statements, according to the affidavit, “indicating that he had made a mistake…and that his life was over.”
Bethea Jr. has previously been incarcerated at the Marion County jail. The first time in March 2008, according to jail records, for giving a false name during a traffic stop and again 2017 for driving while his license was suspended or revoked (this was his 5th offense).
TV20 spoke with Ire Bethea Sr. over the phone, he told us, his family is distraught about this incident.
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