WASHINGTON -- Sheriff's detectives in Polk County, Fla., never know what they're going to find when they fish for sexual predators by creating bogus profiles on adult Internet sites. But they were stunned last month when they ran across a man representing himself as an official of the Department of Homeland Security - with a department lapel pin and a government telephone number - and seeking to connect with a 14-year-old girl.
Prosecutors were preparing yesterday to extradite Brian J. Doyle, a senior public information officer in the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, who is charged with 23 felony counts of using a computer to seduce a child and transmitting harmful materials to a minor.
The sheriff's office, which serves an area in Central Florida east of Tampa, has accused Doyle, 55, of using the Internet to start conversations with what he thought was a 14-year- old girl about sexual activities he said the two would engage in.
Doyle is accused of sending pornographic movies and nonsexual photos, including one of himself wearing a Homeland Security lapel pin and a lanyard that says "TSA." Doyle previously worked for the Transportation Security Administration, which is part of Homeland Security.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Doyle bragged to the "girl" that he worked for Homeland Security and in later conversations provided his office phone number and the number of his government-issued cell phone.
The arrest led to calls on Capitol Hill yesterday for tighter employee screening at the Department of Homeland Security.
"What if the person on the other end had been a member of al-Qaida or a similar terrorist organization and used this information to blackmail Mr. Doyle?" Rep. Peter T. King, the New York Republican who heads the Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement yesterday. He promised to investigate department hiring policies next month.
Colleagues said they were shocked by Doyle's arrest and described him as a friendly co-worker who loved telling stories and spouting sports scores.
"There's not a person I know who doesn't like him," said Dennis Murphy, who supervised Doyle for two years before leaving Homeland Security.
Another department official, Frank Figueroa, 49, who oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations in Florida, was arrested recently and has pleaded not guilty to charges that he exposed himself to a girl at a mall last year in Tampa.
Most investigations of online predators take months, but Judd said his office arrested Doyle weeks after the first online conversation March 12 because of "his high-profile position and us not knowing how much information he had access to or who he could share that with."
Doyle sometimes called the purported girl a different name, "which leads us to believe he may have had other chats with other girls," Judd said.
Stings aimed at Internet users interested in child pornography have become a regular part of operations, a Polk County sheriff's department official said. The county has a zero-tolerance policy for adult-oriented businesses, including strip clubs and adult bookstores.
Agents with the U.S. Secret Service, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, and the department's inspector general's office served a search warrant at Doyle's home in Silver Spring on Tuesday with Montgomery County police and the Polk County sheriff's office.
"We take these allegations very seriously," said Russ Knocke, the department's press secretary and Doyle's supervisor.
At a hearing yesterday in Maryland, Doyle's lawyer, Barry Helfand, requested that bail be set to allow Doyle to appear in Florida without being extradited. Helfand did not return a call seeking comment.
Each felony charge carries a maximum five-year sentence.
Doyle left Time magazine to join the newly created Department of Homeland Security as a civilian employee in 2002.
Nick Timiraos writes for the Los Angeles Times.