Southwest Florida Exposure has gained about 12,000 followers in just two months.
Tuesday, May 5th 2020, 5:33 PM EDT by
Tuesday, May 5th 2020, 6:41 PM EDT
NORTH PORT, Fla. – Remember the show ‘To Catch a Predator’ on MSNBC? It’s been roughly 15 years since they set up shop at a home in Fort Myers to expose men looking to have sex with minors.
Now, a similar, less polished broadcast is emerging in Southwest Florida.
It’s a Facebook page called ‘Southwest Florida Exposure’ that’s run by North Port resident Lee Bassett. The page has gained about 12,000 followers in just two months.
“It took off,” Bassett said. “I target [a suspected predator] in someone’s neighborhood, they’re like, ‘Hey this guy lives down the street’ — share, share, share!”
Bassett said his process starts online with chats on dating apps. Bassett said he and his team members will pose as underage girls, and older men will initiate. He even reads the chat logs on his Facebook page.
“They’re just full force, sending nudes, trying to video chat. Just graphic stuff,” Bassett said of the men they chat with. “It’s disgusting. It’s wrong.”
Bassett also has female adult friends who offer up filtered pictures and even make phone calls to the suspected predators to make the situation seem believable.
Eventually, Bassett arranges to meet the men in a public place and it’s all broadcast live on Facebook.
In some videos, the alleged predators seem confused and deny the claims made against them. In others, they admit what they did was wrong and even apologize for it.
“I feel I’ve stopped people from (committing) a crime that they would have. I feel I’ve exposed people,” he said. “I feel if I save one child — I’ve done something.”
Bassett said his team will then reach out to family, friends or coworkers of the men exposed in the videos.
“It’s vigilantism, I don’t know any other way to couch it,” independent defense attorney Lance Dunford said.
Dunford reviewed the Facebook page and shared his thoughts with NBC2.
“Is what they’re saying and allegedly being portrayed to do — is it a terrible and heinous thing? Yes, yes it is,” Dunford said.
Still, Dunford said he’s left with several legal questions — including one in particular.
“My initial reaction is, why isn’t law enforcement involved?” Dunford said. “You have these people who are allegedly admitting to crimes openly to you. Get law enforcement involved right away.”
Bassett said he has reached out to police and hopes to eventually share the videos with investigators.
A spokesman for the police department in Northport, where many of the meet-ups happen, said it’s possible the videos could lead to an actual criminal investigation.
But ultimately, police don’t recommend that citizens do things like this — they said it’s dangerous.
Does Bassett wonder if the men he confronts might try to hurt him?
“Oh — every time,” he said. “I still do it. I feel the best thing I can do is show them my camera and tell them I’m live-streaming.”
Bassett also said the men he confronts have threatened to sue him. He’s confident what he’s doing is legal.
“I’m told all the time they’re gonna sue me. I’ll gladly go to court,” Bassett said. “I don’t blast anybody until I’m 100% sure of what you said.”
Ultimately, Bassett says his motivation — aside from protecting children — is twofold. He has a 3-year-old daughter of his own.
He also has a criminal history. Bassett spent time in jail for a hit-and-run drunk driving crash that injured a teen.
For him, this is an opportunity for redemption.
“I broke the law. I did something wrong. People got hurt. And this is — I’m trying to do something good now,” he said.
“I’m trying to be one of the criminals that don’t go back to jail or keep doing the same crime over and over. I’m just trying to be a criminal that got out and is trying to do something good.”
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