DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — The 35-year-old Navy man charged with attempting to have sex with an underage girl was among the men targeted in a child sex sting operation conducted four months ago through the Walton County Sheriff's Office.
Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Corey Dobridnia said 35-year-old Ray Morris Klett — who at the time of his arrest was a sailor assigned to the guided-missile destroyer U.S.S. Ralph Johnson based in Everett, Washington — was communicating with an undercover police officer in early March during an operation dubbed "Paladin's Shield."
According to Dobridnia, Klett was staying in Pensacola at the time, "waiting for his ship to be commissioned." The destroyer was commissioned on March 24 in Charleston, S.C. and then headed for Naval Station Everett.
Paladin's Shield was conducted by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The Walton County Sheriff's Office worked in conjunction with the Okaloosa, Escambia and Wakulla County sheriff's offices, police departments in Panama City, Pensacola, Gulf Breeze, Tallahassee and Gainesville and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Between Feb. 28 and March 5, Paladin's Shield resulted in the arrests of seven men in Northwest Florida and a Pennsylvania man on charges including using a computer to seduce, solicit or lure a minor, using a two-way communication device to facilitate a felony and traveling to meet after using a computer to lure a minor.
In Klett's case, an undercover Panama City police detective working with Paladin's Shield was contacted by him — under the alias Mike Zuccaro — regarding a Craiglist ad posted as a ruse. In the ad, she posed as the mother of a 14-year-old girl looking for a sexual "mentor" for her daughter. Later in the sting, the detective impersonated the fictional girl.
Between March 1-3, according to case records, Klett sent six photos to the 14-year-old — three of his face, one of his genitals covered by underwear, and two showing his exposed genitals. Case records also show emails between Klett and the 14-year-old included sexually explicit messages. "I (would) like to kiss from your lips go down and take your pants off and (perform sexual acts)," one email read.
The men arrested initially in the sting traveled to meet what they thought were young boys and girls with whom they were planning to engage in sexual acts, only to be met by law-enforcement officers. Klett headed to Santa Rosa Beach, but turned around while he was en route and apparently avoided arrest.
"(A)t the time of travel he did not provide the probable cause for arrest and I did not provide any information about where to meet," the undercover detective wrote in a report.
The Walton County investigation continued beyond Paladin's Shield. One of the photos that Klett sent during the sting showed him in a Navy uniform, so authorities contacted the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which tracked Klett to the Washington-based ship.
Klett waived extradition proceedings in Snohomish County, Washington, and was booked into the Walton County Jail on June 28 on charges similar to those filed in Paladin's Shield. Klett remained in jail Friday under a $100,000 bond for charges of using a computer to seduce, solicit or lure a child, transmitting harmful information to minors and using a two-way communication device to facilitate a felony.