Not long after his medical discharge from the Navy, when he was 22 years old, Carlos Rafael Rivera-Hernandez was arrested in Palm Coast for the statutory rapes of a 14-year-old girl. He pleaded out, served one year in prison and five on sex-offender probation, which was terminated in 2021, though his designation as a sex offender remained.
Thirteen months ago, Rivera-Hernandez was re-arrested at his home on Secretary Trail, where his pregnant wife and 11-month-old daughter were living, this time on 20 counts of possession of child sexual abuse material.
He pleaded again. On Monday, Circuit Judge Terence Perkins sentenced Rivera-Hernandez to 15 years in prison, followed by 15 years on sex-offender probation, and declared Rivera-Hernandez a sexual predator for life. He was represented by Michael Lambert, who had represented him in his first case a decade ago.
At the time of his arrest, Rivera-Hernandez had lived in Flagler County since 2012 and was a project manager at M&M Development and Construction, a Bunnell-based business. He was a U.S. Navy veteran, having been discharged for medical reasons in 2011 (he was getting $2,200 in monthly disability). He had been Baker Acted in Gainesville 10 years before and was in counseling for depression.
According to an investigation by the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office and the Boone, N.C. Police Department, Rivera-Hernandez had joined a private group on Kik Messenger called “Anything Goes,” which was involved in the distribution of child abuse material. A Boone detective under cover joined the group and investigated.
He discovered that a user with the handle “wolfknight77,” whose display name was “Wolf Knight,” was disseminating videos of abuse material involving prepubescent children, some as young as 2. The Boone detective, J.B. Reid, contacted authorities in Florida about “Wolf Knight,” and through subpoenas, identified the user’s Charter Communications IP address, and eventually identified the user as Rivera-Hernandez.
Rivera-Hernandez was the subject of surveillance at his workplace by law enforcement before a search warrant was served there–with a SWAT team and detective Dennis Lashbrook of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, who at the time lead the agency’s child-abuse material unit. (He is no longer with the agency.) Various thumb drives and phones were seized. Rivera-Hernandez told authorities at the time that the only social media app he used was Whatsapp, but claimed he had not used social media in five years. He denied using the Kik app, and denied recognizing some of the material Lashbrook had located on his accounts.
Forensic analyses of the items seized produced numerous files that contained suspected child sexual abuse material, including still images and videos.
The investigation had concluded that “there were no suspicions of tampering and he was our only person of interest,” according to his arrest report.
Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark negotiated the plea agreement with Lambert before Perkins accepted the plea just before Christmas. Technically, Rivera-Hernandez had faced a maximum of 305 years in prison, had his penalties been calculated consecutively, rather than concurrently. His probationary years will include a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, prohibitions on living within 1,000 feet of schools, day care centers, parks or other places where children gather, prohibitions on any contact with anyone younger than 18, severe work and volunteering restrictions, prohibitions on internet access, and so on.
His charges also included one count of failing to register as a sexual offender. He was found guilty on that as well, with a 5-year prison term to be served concurrently to his 15 years.