TAMARAC, FL (WSVN/CNN) - Authorities arrested a 41-year-old Florida man, who they say used the popular online game “Fortnite” to victimize at least 20 minors, including a 17-year-old girl with whom he allegedly had a sexual relationship.
Following his arrest Thursday, 41-year-old Anthony Thomas was charged with 22 counts of child pornography and other charges for unlawful sex with a minor, according to the Florida Attorney General’s Office.
Deputies say the case started with a missing 17-year-old out of Brevard County, FL. The girl was found, accompanied by Thomas, after her concerned family contacted the sheriff’s office.
While the 17-year-old was safely returned home, deputies say they were suspicious of Thomas and an alleged co-conspirator.
“We started looking into it a bit deeper, at which point in the investigation we found out that she was being exploited,” said Sgt. Thomas McInerney with the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
Authorities learned the teen had been lured into a sexual relationship over the summer through the online video game “Fortnite.”
“They made contact with the victim via the ‘Fortnite’ gaming platform, which is a popular game today, obviously,” McInerney said. “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.”
Officials say Thomas and the co-conspirator then brought the victim to Broward County and allegedly engaged in sexual activity with her.
After a search warrant unveiled photos and videos of the victim, Thomas was arrested.
“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,” Attorney General Ashley Moody said.
Authorities believe there could be as many as 20 victims. They say Thomas’ alleged co-conspirator would contact victims and develop a relationship with them before introducing them to Thomas.
Thomas would then allegedly manipulate the victims with gifts and a cell phone, so they could communicate directly.
Officials say 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.”