The Florida Department of Law Enforcement received more than one gigabyte of data associated with an Instagram account allegedly used to distribute sexually explicit images of children in foster care under Eckerd Connects care, according to Hillsborough County Court records.
It’s the latest sign of trouble for Tampa Bay’s beleaguered foster care and child services agency. The private, state-funded organization recently lost its contracts with the Department of Children and Families in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties. And Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced a criminal investigation into Eckerd shortly after. Gualtieri held a press conference where he told of gruesome injuries, drug overdoses, shuffling between unlicensed facilities and conditions that were “disgusting and deplorable.”
FDLE’s Tampa Bay Regional Operations Center has added possession and distribution of child pornography to the list of crimes alleged to have been committed against children under Eckerd Connects’ care.
According to FDLE, special agents were notified over the summer of a now-defunct Instagram account called eckerdorphansexpos.
Shiloh Wallace, 18, told investigators she was a former foster child under Eckerd’s care and still stayed in contact with some of the children via social media. Around the end of July, Wallace noticed she was following the account but was not familiar with it. She told investigators the account had no posts. Instead, it primarily used Instagram’s story feature, which allows photos and videos to be viewed for 24 hours. Wallace told investigators the stories contained pornographic material featuring children ages 12-18 she recognized from Eckerd Connects.
The pornographic material, Wallace said, was produced by the children themselves. She told investigators sexual activity and sexting — sending sexually explicit text messages — was common place for children living in the Eckerd Connects-run foster program. She said children would send sexually explicit material back and forth to each other.
Wallace said there was no name attached to the account, but direct messages in her inbox linked to the account of a minor she lived with while in foster care, then appeared under the eckerdorphansexpos handle. She told investigators she believed that minor child was collecting the shared material, then sending it out themselves through the Instagram account.
While Instagram stories disappear to users after 24 hours, Instagram collects and saves troves of metadata associated with accounts and posts. The company can see what kind of device was used to log in and from where. It also geotags posts to see where they originated and has all of the information regarding who created an account, when, where and any changes to names or information.
Ron Bartlett, a spokesperson for Eckerd Connects, said the organization was first notified of the activity on July 30 and immediately notified DCF and FDLE, triggering the investigation.
“The allegations in the search warrant focus entirely on the private behavior of young people in foster care,” Bartlett said. “Importantly, Eckerd received no information whatsoever — nor does the search warrant allege — that any Eckerd staff or foster parents were involved. Eckerd takes allegations of this nature very seriously and fully supports the investigation by FDLE into this matter.”
According to Hillsborough County Court records, Meta, Instagram’s parent company, delivered a folder to FDLE containing 1.35 gigabytes of data on Dec. 1. The data includes numerous videos and photos shared by the account.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it could not comment on the case as it is an active investigation.