A California man has been charged with kidnapping after he allegedly took a 17-year-old girl used as bait in a botched pedophile sting cooked up by a group of teenagers.
Robert Dreyfus, 32, faces one count of kidnapping in connection with the alleged incident, which played out Sunday afternoon in Vista, Calif., according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office.
Authorities say the victim and her friends used social media to contact an “older man who was looking for underaged girls to have sex with,” then set up a meeting with their target at a shopping mall. The 17-year-old victim was meant to serve as bait so the teens could ambush the target and turn him over to police.
Things went awry when the victim agreed to get into the suspect’s car to “talk,” at which point the suspect drove away without her consent, the San Diego Sheriff’s Office said.
The girl managed to send an SOS message to her friends via text, and her friends called police to pull the vehicle over before the victim could be harmed.
Dreyfus was arrested at the scene and booked into the Vista jail on suspicion of kidnapping, sending harmful matter to a minor and communication with a minor for specific offences, the Washington Post reports.
Dreyfus has posted $175,000 bail and is due back in court on Tuesday, ABC 10 reports.
The sheriff’s department says the incident should serve as a cautionary tale to would-be vigilantes hoping to catch pedophiles on their own.
“The Sheriff’s Department strongly discourages the public from setting up meetings or contacting anyone for the purpose of catching an individual who is committing a crime,” Sgt. Shane Watts said in a statement to the Times of San Diego. “These types of situations can be extremely dangerous and should be handled by your local law enforcement agency.”
Pedophile stings have become increasingly popular in recent years with the rise of social media, which has allowed many people to name and shame alleged child predators. However, authorities say such activity often labels people without giving them the due process of the criminal justice system, and it can also result in false positives.
Attorney Jan Ronis says this vigilante-style justice also complicates the criminal case against a potential pedophile.
“Normally, law enforcement runs these operations. Everything is recorded,” he told ABC 10. “This is a bunch of kids.”