Pastor helped catch man soliciting sex with minors at Florida church, deputies say

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POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A 54-year old man left his phone number on the doors at Fuel Church in north Lakeland, asking to spend the night with someone of any age, deputies said.

Later, instead of the young teenage girl he thought he was speaking with, he was actually texting with the youth pastor from the church, according to authorities.

“Thank you, good looking out,” said Chelsea Hays, a parent, about the pastor.

As for the suspect, Hays expressed concern for her 12-year old daughter who spends time at Fuel Church.

“I can’t understand why people feel the need to do that kind of stuff, or why the kids have to deal with this kind of stuff at all. This shouldn’t even be a  problem. It shouldn’t be something they face,” she said.

According to deputies, Richard Lansford, 54, left notes on the doors at Fuel Church.

“He sees maybe some girls going and coming from a meeting. He asks, what’s your name, your age, do you want to do anything tonight? And he leaves his phone number,” said Sheriff Grady Judd.

Pastor Gregory Walker found the notes and started texting the number, pretending to be a 16-year old girl named Abby.

Here is an excerpt of the text conversation from the arrest affidavit:

Suspect:  You a girl what your name,age

Abbey:  Abbey, 16

Abbey:  Whats your name

Suspect:  Richard

Abbey:  I like that name

Abbey:  Wanna meet me at Subway

Suspect:  You like do (to) sleep wiht <sic> me

Walker identified the suspect because he saw him respond to each text he sent to him.

Walker called deputies who arrested Lansford, a sex offender with a history of soliciting minors in Texas, according to the sheriff’s office.

Walker did not want to be interviewed by 8 On Your Side. He said he was just doing his job to protect the kids who attend his church.

The sheriff is glad he did what he did.

“Had [Lansford] been smooth and made himself sound like some Romeo in search of a Juliet, could have been a whole different story. Thanks to the youth pastor doing a good job,” said Judd.

Lansford confessed to detectives, according to the arrest affidavit.

He said, he was “stupid” for doing this and he is “sorry,” according to the affidavit.

Lansford is facing several charges including lewd battery and related to traveling to meet a minor to engage in sexual intercourse.

“Children 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, they’re inquisitive, they’re interested. They’re curious. Someone might have just texted back just to see,” said Judd.

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