FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — When Fort Wayne police got to the furniture store, they encountered a group of people loudly confronting a 47-year-old man they said was soliciting an underaged girl. Additionally, the group was livestreaming the confrontation.
A woman posing as a 14-year-old girl claimed she had proof that Jeffrey Michael Vernace, of Hicksville, Ohio, had attempted to engage the fictitious girl in sex acts using a cell phone.
Vernace was charged last week with two counts of child solicitation. A warrant was issued for his arrest. As of Monday, Vernace had not been booked into the Allen County Jail, according to a jail spokesperson.
The probable cause affidavit written by veteran sex crimes detective Sgt. Todd Battershell states that Vernace is a convicted sex felon. Vernace appears online with sex crime convictions in Missouri.
The decoy had been communicating with Vernace, who went by the name Trey Sommers, since June of last year, but the probable cause doesn’t say why. The woman apparently knew where Vernace worked because one of the witnesses said that she saw some of the videos he sent and “recognized the bathroom” at the business, the affidavit said.
Vernace asked the decoy for her age, sex and location. When she said she was 14, Vernace asked her “if she had ever been with an older man” and then immediately asked for semi-nude photos and talked about sexual behavior, the affidavit said.
Vernace sent several photos of his private area and told her what kind of sex he wanted to engage in and then another video where he was performing a sex act on himself. Court documents say he also sent some of these photographs and videos from his home in Ohio.
The decoy said she knew he was at work because she recognized some items in the bathroom and the time of day when he claimed to be at work.
By September, the group who confronted Vernace had had enough and confronted him on Sept. 19 of last year. Vernace acknowledged he was communicating with someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl and apologized. He said he should have stopped and told her he was not interested.
Battershell called Vernace’s wife who told him Vernace called her during the confrontation. Vernace said he was “sick” when one of the people confronting him said the girl was 14, the affidavit said.