By Times-Tribune staff
A federal jury has convicted a St. Louis man for attempting to entice an underage Collinsville girl.
However, the victim was not actually a local teen, but rather a profile created by the FBI to catch sexual predators.
Vallie Francis Zeller, 46, was found guilty Wednesday in the U.S. District Court on three felony charges – attempted enticement of a minor, travel with intent to engage in sexual conduct with a minor and attempted sexual exploitation of a minor, according to a US Attorney’s Office Southern District of Illinois news release.
Evidence during trial revealed that Zeller was having explicit dialogue with an alleged 15-year old girl online. He began an illicit exchange with who he thought was a teenager, asking for nude photos. He also asked to meet up with her knowing that she was under age, according to the release.
“The defendant deliberately tried to exploit a minor for sexual activity and chose to drive across state lines to engage in criminal sex acts, and I’m grateful the jury convicted him on all counts,” U.S. Attorney Rachelle Aud Crowe stated.
An FBI agent generated the online profile in June 2020, with a Collinsville address and posed as a 15-year old girl in an undercover operation FBI Agent David Nanz said that the investigation showed that Zeller purposefully tried to abuse a child.
“We are grateful for the many law enforcement partners who participated in the investigation,” Nanz continued.
As the result of the operation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other local, state and federal law enforcement, Zeller and 13 other cyber-sexual predators were taken off the streets, according to the release.
Sentencing for Zeller is set for July 18. He faces up to 15 years in prison.