Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Middle District of Florida
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, October 27, 2022
Orlando, Florida – U.S. District Judge Paul G. Byron has sentenced Thomas Zayas (46, Orlando) to 35 years in federal prison for enticing a minor child to produce sexually explicit videos and for possessing that material. Zayas was also ordered to serve a 15-year term of supervised release, register as a sex offender, and forfeit his smartphones. Zayas had pleaded guilty on July 26, 2022.
According to court documents and evidence presented during the sentencing hearing, in approximately July 2021, Zayas, posing as a teenage boy, used a messaging application to contact a 12-year-old child. After the child grew tired of Zayas’s romantic advances, she stopped communicating with Zayas. Zayas then contacted the child again, this time posing as the sister of the teenage boy. Zayas threatened to physically hurt the child for ending the “relationship” with the fictional brother, and as a result, the child agreed to continue a friendship with the original persona. In order to scare the child and prove that Zayas knew who the child was, where she lived, and where she went to school, Zayas sent the child a photo of the child’s apartment complex and a yearbook photo of the child from the child’s middle school. Zayas then requested several nude images and videos of the child performing sexual acts, and he instructed the child on what to do in the images and videos. Initially the child refused, afraid that Zayas would post the photos on the internet to harm the child. After promising not to use the images to harm the child, the child eventually sent Zayas sexually explicit videos and photos. The demands from Zayas continued, and when the child did not comply with Zayas’s requests, Zayas became hostile, and threatened to expose the child with the nude videos and images the child had previously sent.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) was made aware of Zayas when a school resource officer was contacted by a parent who received via text message a collage depicting sexually explicit photos of the child. OSCO investigators were able to trace the aliases to Zayas through phone records, and with the help of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General, also discovered evidence of an order for flowers, which Zayas had delivered to the child’s middle school, from his work-issued laptop.
“It’s heartbreaking to learn about the repeated abuse and trauma these young victims endure at the hands of sexual predators like Mr. Zayas,” said FBI Tampa Division Special Agent in Charge David Walker. “The FBI Child Exploitation Task Forces are steadfastly committed to protecting the innocent and making sure child sexual abusers are brought to justice.”
“The sentence imposed today serves as a stark warning to all VA employees that you will be held accountable for using government resources to further crimes and that the full force of the VA OIG will be employed to bring to justice anyone who preys on children,” said Special Agent in Charge David Spilker with the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General’s Southeast Field Office. “The VA OIG thanks the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners with whom we will continue to work to safeguard our communities from such predators.”
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, with assistance from the United States Secret Service. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jennifer M. Harrington.
This is another case brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc.