Boone County Detective Andy Anderson arrested Jeffrey Vernace of Valley Park at noon Saturday on suspicion of enticing a child to meet him to engage in sexual misconduct.
Anderson is leading an undercover investigation that began Oct. 1 into enticement of Boone County children over the Internet. As part of the investigation, Anderson enters Internet chat rooms and poses as female children between the ages of 12 and 14.
In this case, Anderson pretended to be a 13-year-old Boone County girl.
“The suspect contacted what he believed to be a child and began chatting with that child,” Anderson said. “In a period of approximately five weeks, he coaxed the child to meet him. Fortunately, instead of being a real child, it was really the police he was talking to.”
Anderson said detectives identified the suspect as Vernace, a 30-year-old swim coach for the Clayton-Shaw Park Tideriders, a St. Louis-area swim team. Terry Freerks, executive director of the team, said Vernace was suspended from coaching immediately after the swim team received word of his arrest. Vernace had been coaching the Tideriders’ senior team, which consists of primarily high school students, since September.
Anderson could not say how the suspect’s identity was determined.
According to Clayton police Sgt. Bob Walsh, the suspect was arrested at a McDonald’s restaurant in St. Louis County.
Vernace had arranged to meet the child after a friend dropped her off, Anderson said. Anderson made the arrest with detectives from the Clayton Police Department and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Vernace is charged in Boone County Circuit Court with first-degree attempted statutory rape, first-degree attempted statutory sodomy and attempted enticement of a child. Vernace posted a $50,000 bond and was released late Saturday night.
Anderson said the suspect engaged the masquerading detective in sexually explicit conversation and sent him pornographic photographs before asking the “child” to meet.
Investigators obtained information indicating Vernace also had frequent contact with other female children the same age as the child portrayed by Anderson.
Six other men have been arrested since October as a result of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department investigation. Two of the men are from Boone County.