FDLE arrests local sex offender

OKEECHOBEE — A local sexual offender was arrested by Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) agents Thursday because he allegedly did not tell anyone about an email account he uses.

According to Michele Bell, who oversees the sex offender unit at the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), convicted sex offenders have to tell her about all of their email accounts just the same as their home addresses.

Because of that law Mark Eric Runner, 59, S.E. 27th St., was arrested April 7 on two felony counts of failure of a sex offender to provide email address or internet identifiers to a sheriff’s office. That charge is a third-degree felony.

Mark Eric Runner

Mark Eric Runner

“Before using internet or email identifiers, the offenders need to tell me,” explained Mrs. Bell. “Runner had an email address that he registered with me, but he also had another one that he didn’t tell me about.

“He doesn’t have to be using them illegally. The mere fact that he had an illegal account is a third-degree felony,” she added.

Runner was booked into the Okeechobee County Jail where he is being held on $50,000 bond.

FDLE agents Christopher Tissot and Larry Long arrested Runner on an Okeechobee County warrant at the sheriff’s office without incident. Those agents are both members of FDLE’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) unit.

The ICAC unit deals with sex offenders across the state and periodically checks on offenders. Then, if the agents see something suspicious they initiate an investigation that could result in an arrest.
Such was the case Thursday with Runner.

“He came in to have a 2 p.m. appointment with me and was taken into custody at that time,” said Mrs. Bell.

Mrs. Bell went on to explain that convicted sex offenders have a number of things they have to tell her about — which include home address, email accounts, Facebook accounts, their height, weight and if they are on a school campus.

Local offenders also have to register with the sheriff’s office. Some, said Mrs. Bell, register twice a year while some register four times a year. If an offender becomes a transient, they are instructed to contact Mrs. Bell once a week.

“They (offenders) also have to maintain a valid driver’s license or ID card,” she added. “There are 19 things I instruct them on, and all of them are second- or third-degree felonies if they don’t abide them.”

Runner’s arrest Thursday came at the end of a five- to six-month probe by FDLE that was started at the request of the sheriff’s office.

Mrs. Bell said Runner has been registering with her since 2006, which was not long after he was released from prison.

Records indicate Runner was arrested in 1996 in Orange County on six counts of attempted sexual battery on a victim under the age of 12. The state then dropped four counts and, in March of 1997, Runner entered a plea of no contest to the remaining two counts.

He was adjudicated guilty and sentenced to 22 years in prison. He was released in 2006 and then served another eight years on probation.

Mrs. Bell said this was the ICAC unit’s first arrest for not providing an email address or internet identifiers.

“This is an ongoing investigation by FDLE, and this is the first one they’ve investigated so far,” she said. “So for other offenders out there, beware!”

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