TAMPA — Prosecutors are dropping charges in Florida against the man accused of seducing a 14-year-old California boy through online video games and flying with him across the country to Tampa, the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office said Thursday.
Tony Lee McLeod, a 36-year-old Tampa resident who once trained as a police cadet, still faces out-of-state charges brought by the San Diego County District Attorney's Office and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of California.
When Tampa police officers arrested McLeod earlier this month, they booked him on charges including kidnapping, interference with custody and transmission of harmful material to a minor. On Wednesday, however, he was transported from the Hillsborough County jail system into federal custody in Pinellas County.
Because McLeod's rendezvous with the boy took place in California, it makes sense for the prosecution to proceed there, said Mark Cox, a Hillsborough State Attorney's Office spokesman.
"We're going to drop our charges here," Cox said. "The witnesses, and pretty much the case, are out there."
McLeod waived his right to challenge his extradition at a Hillsborough Circuit Court hearing earlier this week, setting the stage for his transportation to California. Police in Escondido, Calif. — the boy's hometown — said Thursday it is unclear when McLeod will be moved.
In Southern California, he faces state charges including child abduction and meeting with a minor to commit a sex offense, as well as a federal charge of enticement of a minor. The federal count carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment upon conviction.
Authorities say McLeod made initial contact with the boy playing online PlayStation games, and then began sending him explicit text messages from across the country. The federal complaint states that he wrote to the boy that he "loves" him and "I don't like you being there."
After sending a naked photograph of himself, according to the complaint, McLeod gave the boy an odd lecture on his personal interpretation of the age of consent, writing in a text message that "California state statute basically says that a person 14 years of age or older is competent enough to make decisions of where they're going t(o) live including emancipation and its guidelines I sent you are at the bottom of the link."
The boy's parents reported him missing June 10. Police in California tracked McLeod to an airport by zeroing in on his cellphone and deduced he was returning with the victim to Tampa.
Law enforcement officials arrested McLeod when he and the boy — traveling under the name "Justin McLeod" — debarked from a jet June 11 at Tampa International Airport.
The boy was returned home, and McLeod was jailed.
Staff writer Will Hobson contributed to this report.