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Convicted sexual offender arrested after online sting

Thomas Harris was arrested during an undercover sting after a New Jersey detective posed as a mother of a 6-year-old child. The conversation is too distributing to repeat, but reports show it was between Harris and a person he thought was a mother; both talking about Harris having sex with her daughter.

On March 25, the Lee County Sheriff's Office was contacted by a court officer with the County Prosecutor's Office in Bergen County, New Jersey.

He explained to Lee County detectives that between November 2012 and January 2013, he had conducted an undercover chat investigation through a pornographic website.

The officer went on to explain he was posing as an adult female with a six-year-old daughter and started speaking to a man, who was identified as 33-year-old Thomas Harris.

The officer told Lee County deputies that during these conversations, Harris had identified himself as a sex offender and that he was interested in having sex with children.

On November 27, the undercover officer and Harris started conversing on Yahoo! Instant Messenger.

Excerpts from the conversations are in the Lee County Sheriff's Office arrest report. But again, we'd like to warn you that they are quite graphic.

It was in 2005 and 2008 that Harris was convicted of offenses that qualified him as a sexual offender. He is now registered with the Lee County Sheriff's Office.

His most current FDLE registration with the sheriff's office was on February 5, where he re-registered the address of 309 Paddock Street in Lehigh Acres.

During that registration process, he signed a document stating he had read the 16 requirements he needed to follow after registering as a sex offender - one of which stated:

"I MUST report any electronic email address or instant message name, prior to using such, during registration/re-registration or by providing all updates through the online system maintained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement."

According to his arrest report, he showed that he was aware of the obligation when he registered two email addresses on his sexual offender registration form in February and August of 2012.

As of May 28, the screen names he had been using during the undercover investigation had not been registered, the arrest report states.

Harris was arrested on the obscene communication charges and for failing to report an email address/instant message name.

John Pena, a neighbor, was unnerved by Harris's arrest.

"It's disturbing; it definitely makes the goosebumps go on the skin-knowing how close it is to home and having kids," Pena said.

But what is even more upsetting to many is Harris lives in that home with a fiancée and two kids. She wouldn't talk on camera but says she and Harris have been together two years and have a 5-month-old daughter; also inside the home, her 5-year-old son from another relationship. She said she knew he was a convicted sexual predator and registered sex offender, but was shocked he was still soliciting children. We asked officers if Harris was allowed to live with children; the answer was unclear.

Harris was booked into the Lee County Jail Monday.

In 2004, Harris was arrested on similar charges including using a computer to solicit sex to a child. The State Attorney's office tells us he plead guilty on all counts; he received 29 months and 9 days in prison after violating his probation.

Harris is now facing charges that could send him back. The convicted sexual predator was arrested at a Circle K off Cleveland Avenue in Fort Myers.

Those who knew Harris say he was a former employee at Driver's Choice in Cape Coral but was working at Midas in Naples at the time of this recent arrest.

He was a local--according to his Facebook page he was attending Edison State College and graduated from Lehigh Senior High.

But perhaps the most shocked by Monday's news were neighbors who have children of their own.

"I wouldn't even want to read what was in it," Pena said.

By Christina Lusby, Reporter - www.abc-7.com - LEHIGH ACRES

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