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 Homeland Security Department -- complete with lapel pin and a government telephone number -- and looking to connect with a 14-year-old girl.
On Wednesday, prosecutors prepared to extradite Brian J. Doyle -- a senior public information officer for the agency -- who faces 23 felony counts of using a computer to seduce a child and of transmitting harmful materials to a minor.
The sheriff's office, which serves an area in central Florida, alleges that Doyle, who turns 56 Friday, used 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 also allegedly sent pornographic movies and nonsexual photos, including one of him wearing a Homeland Security lapel pin and a lanyard that says "TSA." Doyle previously worked for the Transportation Security Administration, which is part of the Homeland Security Department.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said that Doyle bragged to the "girl" about his Homeland Security Department post, and that in later conversations he provided his office phone number and the number of his government-issued cellphone.
The arrest led to calls on Capitol Hill for tighter employee screening at the Department of Homeland Security.
"What if the person on the other end had been a member of Al Qaeda or a similar terrorist organization and used this information to blackmail Mr. Doyle?" House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) said in a statement Wednesday. He promised to investigate the agency's hiring policies next month.
Colleagues expressed shock over Doyle's arrest and described him as a friendly man 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 until Murphy left the Homeland Security Department in May.
Doyle is the second department official recently arrested. Frank Figueroa, 49, who oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations in Florida, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he exposed himself to a girl at an Orlando mall last year.
Judd said that most investigations of online predators take months but that his office made the arrest weeks after the first conversation March 12 because of Doyle's "high-profile position and us not knowing how much information he had access to or who he could share that with."
He also said that Doyle would sometimes call the girl a different name, "which leads us to believe he may have had other chats with other girls."
The Polk County Sheriff's Office formed a unit in 1997 to investigate computer-related incidents, and running sting operations against Internet users interested in child pornography has become a regular part of its operations, a sheriff's official said. The county has a zero-tolerance policy on all adult-oriented businesses, including strip clubs and adult bookstores.
Agents in the Secret Service, which is part of the Homeland Security Department, and the department's Inspector General's Office served a search warrant with the Montgomery County, Md., Police Department and the Polk County Sheriff's Office.
"We take these allegations very seriously," said Homeland Security Press Secretary Russ Knocke, Doyle's supervisor.
At a hearing Wednesday in Maryland, Doyle's lawyer, Barry Helfand, requested that bail be set so that Doyle could appear in Florida without being extradited. Doyle, who is divorced, appeared in court with a woman identified as his partner of 15 years, the Associated Press reported. Helfand did not return a call seeking comment.
Each felony carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Doyle left a career at Time magazine to join the agency as a civilian employee in 2002.