PINELLAS/MANATEE COUNTY –
Forty-three men are now facing charges after a weeklong undercover child sex sting.
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Department, working alongside other law enforcement agencies, arrested the men after detectives say they went to an undisclosed home in Manatee County after they had arranged online to have sex with a girl as young as 14.
They had no idea, officials say, that the person on the other hand was a detective and that when they opened the door to the house they would be arrested.
One of the men charged in the sting is an award-winning paramedic with a decade of service with the St. Petersburg Fire Department.
Jeremy Wert, 35, is well-known and well-liked, his former chief said, at the city’s busiest fire station in downtown St. Petersburg.
Chief James Large said that Wert “is not a representation of our organization.” He went on to say that Wert had a spotless record and up until now, had no criminal background.
“Jeremy had an outstanding record as a paramedic,” Large said. “Very knowledgeable, very good medic.”
But last week, all of that came crashing down.
Wert was supposed to show up for work last Wednesday but the Chief said he called in sick. It was later that night Manatee County Sheriff’s detectives would arrest him at the undisclosed home. Three days later, the Chief said Wert emailed his letter of resignation, citing personal reasons.
Bay News 9 went to Wert’s home on Monday night to try and get his side of the story. No one came to the door.
The Chief was quick to say that Wert stood out at the station as a competent and certified paramedic and won the Paramedic of the Year award in 2010. Wert was also a teacher, not only for the St. Petersburg Fire Department and St. Petersburg College, but for Manatee Technical Institute, as well. He was also part of the Pinellas County Hazardous Materials Response team, as well as a paramedic in the emergency room at Bayfront Medical Center.
“I was angry,” Chief Large said. “I was embarrassed for the organization, disappointed for the individual. Do things like this happen when you have 310 employees? Unfortunately. And obviously it does. (And) we move on.”
Manatee Sheriff’s officials tell us the investigation is ongoing and that there could be more arrests and more charges.
As for Wert, not only has he resigned from the St. Petersburg Fire Department, he has also resigned from Bayfront Medical Center. They would not comment any further to say he no longer works there.
Wert faces charges of traveling after using a computer to lure a child. The other 42 men face a host of charges. One of them is a registered sex offender.