Polk sheriff: Suspect groomed children to molest them

Ken Suarez reports

- Neighborhood kids would call him Pappa Jim, but the man who ran a cleaning business in Polk County apparently lured and groomed children to molest them - and he may have been doing it for decades, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Wednesday.

The suspect, James Ballone, 53, was known to children as "Papa Jim," Judd said.

Ballone was arrested in July, but now faces 197 charges including child pornography and child molestation. 132 of the charges were filed Tuesday from the follow-up investigation on equipment found in Ballone's home.

Sheriff Judd said Ballone, who was married, photographed himself molesting at least two toddler boys and showed adult pornography to at least two children in his care.

"This is a sexual deviant with a capital S," Judd said Wednesday after the new charges were filed.

Judd added investigators suspect there are more suspects who have not yet come forward. 

"Do we know there are other victims?," asked Judd. "You bet there are. Will we find them? If the community helps us."

Investigators found more than 4,500 images of child pornography in Ballone's home, including dozens of videos and photos created by Ballone with local victims. "It was occurring on a normal basis, we suspect," Judd said.

Ballone had a secret room he didn't allow his wife to go in where he would be alone with children to change their diapers, Judd said. He hired employees with young children, Judd said, and looked for any opportunity to be around children, from offering to babysit his employees' children to cleaning daycare centers. "What scares me to death is what about all the victims and all the children we don't know about?" said Sheriff Judd.

Ballone's first arrest for the sexual abuse of a child occurred when Ballone was just 20. He served several months in a New York jail before being released and offending again, Judd said. "This guy has been a sexual predator his entire adult life," said Judd.

Ballone had trampolines at his home, a swimming pool, lots of kids toys, and the latest electronics that would interest children, Judd said.

The victims told deputies Ballone had cameras throughout his home, even in the bathroom, and that he would have sex with his wife in front of them. Judd didn't say whether or not Ballone's wife would face charges.

The sheriff believes there are more victims out there and urges anyone who has ever had contact with Ballone to contact them right away. "This stuff works me up. I can't stand this. This guy is evil in the flesh," Judd said. 

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