By Ashley Cox

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (CW44 News At 10)– U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard has sentenced Gregory Thomas Garcia (35, Orange Park) to 16 years in federal prison for child sex trafficking. The court also ordered Garcia to forfeit a 2015 Ford Focus vehicle that he had used in committing the offense. After serving his term of imprisonment, Garcia will be required to register as a sex offender. A hearing to determine restitution to the victim has been scheduled for October 12, 2021. Garcia had pleaded guilty on April 6, 2021.

According to court documents, in September 2020, an agent with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) became aware of messages exchanged between Garcia and the child victim.  The messages, dating back to at least October 2019, reflected that Garcia was using the internet to entice the child victim to engage in commercial sex acts. The messages also appeared to reflect ongoing exploitation of the child victim.

When interviewed, the child victim confirmed that Garcia had contacted her and offered to pay her for sex. The child victim disclosed that on one occasion, Garcia had planned to pick the child victim up at her high school, and on another occasion, dropped her off at her high school. The child victim disclosed that, ultimately, Garcia had sexually exploited her on more than 20 occasions. The child victim also provided the HSI agent with additional communications that she had exchanged with Garcia using a popular online messaging application.

From September 21-23, 2020, the HSI agent, posing as the child victim, communicated with Garcia via the same online messaging app. In these communications, Garcia agreed to meet the child victim in a parking lot and pay her $100 in exchange for the child victim allowing Garcia to sexually abuse her. On September 23, 2020, Garcia obtained money to pay the child victim for sex, as well as a soda and candy for the child victim, and then traveled to meet her. Upon arrival, Garcia was arrested. During an interview with law enforcement, Garcia admitted that he had paid the child victim for sex on multiple occasions and that he knew the child victim, who was 16-17 years old, was underage.