Volusia Sheriff’s deputies, detectives and staff worked quickly last month to intercept and arrest a 29-year-old Cocoa Beach man who traveled to Deltona to have sex with a 12-year-old girl.
Brandon Keith Donato was arrested after chatting with an undercover Volusia Sheriff’s Office detective he thought was the same 12-year-old girl he’d already met for sex on two separate occasions.
Deputies learned about the case after the victim’s family found out she’d shared videos on her phone showing her having sex with an unknown male subject. The girl told detectives the male’s name was Brandon Smith, a 17-year-old she met on the Wink mobile app and communicated with on Instagram.
Using Brandon’s contact information and social media profiles, analysts at the Volusia County Crime Center identified him instead as Brandon Donato, a 29-year-old from Cocoa Beach whose vehicle tag was caught by license plate readers in Volusia County in the early-morning hours on both dates the victim said she met with him.
In addition to the videos, a review of the 12-year-old’s phone revealed an ongoing series of sexually explicit messages and descriptions of what they’d done, with Donato still interested in meeting up with her again.
A detective took over the conversation with Donato and ultimately arranged another meeting in Deltona. Multiple deputies and detectives were waiting in the area to take him into custody when he arrived.
Donato is charged with 2 counts of lewd or lascivious battery on a child, showing obscene material to a minor, promoting the sexual performance of a child, using a computer to solicit a child, traveling to meet after using a computer to solicit a child, and unlawful use of a 2-way communication device to facilitate a felony. He was transported to the Volusia County Branch Jail with a bond of $350,000.
Wink is a social networking and friendship app for kids 13 and up that has been described as “Tinder for teens.” The app’s website specifically states it’s not intended for dating, claiming: “We are not a dating app. Our mission is to provide a fun and safe space for everyone to make friends.”
Sheriff Mike Chitwood encouraged parents and guardians of kids with access to mobile devices and apps to closely monitor their activity. “Today, thanks to the quick work of everyone involved in this case, there’s one less predator out there exploiting the same apps our kids use,” Sheriff Chitwood said. “Unfortunately there are many more waiting for their own opportunity. Everyone should take the time and make the effort to protect our kids from predators who want to steal their childhood.”
A list of the most popular social media and networking apps used by kids is available online. Volusia Sheriff Chitwood also announced a series of community meetings where parents, grandparents and other guardians can learn how to protect kids from online predators and other dangers.