TAMPA — Acting on a tip, Hillsborough County deputies walked in on a group of youths suspected of spray-painting racist slurs, swastikas and other graffiti on at least 115 houses in the Brandon area.
They had seen news coverage of their crimes and were in the process of getting their stories straight, sheriff's Lt. Michael Willette said.
Three of the four were each charged with more than 80 counts of misdemeanor criminal mischief.
The fourth was not being charged, and is being considered a witness, officials said.
When detectives interviewed them, the youngsters told detectives the reason they had done all the graffiti was that "they wanted to get on the news," Willette said.
One suspect's identity was released: Aaron Dennis Green, 21, of 3120 Porter Road in Lithia.
Willette said Green admitted his involvement in similar past vandalism, and said the goal was to keep making it bigger so it would eventually make the news.
The other two, both 17, are juveniles facing only misdemeanor charges, so their names were not released.
They are accused of painting graffiti on at least 115 homes in Brandon, Valrico and Seffner neighborhoods early Sunday.
The damage, mostly to garage doors, included racial slurs and the swastika symbol.
Evidence left at the scene led detectives to the Valrico Walmart store, where one suspect bought four cans of spray paint just after midnight on Sunday, deputies said.
If, as detectives said, getting on the news had been their goal, they succeeded. Images of the four were captured by surveillance video cameras at the store and released to the news media.
When they saw themselves in pictures on the news, Willette said, they knew they were in trouble.