230 Arrested during Major Human Trafficking Sting, Multiple Victims Rescued

Authorities in Florida have announced the results of a major human trafficking bust, confirming that “Operation March Sadness 2024” secured almost 230 arrests.

During the operation, 13 potential victims were rescued from human trafficking rings.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd announced the bust of a human trafficking operation during a March 5 press conference.

Judd revealed that the operation, which focused on the west side of the county in Lakeland, led to 228 arrests and the rescue of 13 potential victims.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Department (PCSD) was assisted by police departments in Lakeland, Haines City, Davenport, Auburndale, and Lake Hamilton, as well as the Winterhaven Fire and Rescue.

According to a March 5 press release, the “eight-day-long undercover human trafficking operation” began on February 22.

Authorities targeted suspects “involved in illegal acts related to soliciting prostitutes, offering to commit prostitution, or aiding and abetting prostitutes.

The 228 arrests included “66 prostitutes, 50 Johns, and 12 others,” Sheriff Judd said.

“This time we identified 13 potential victims of human trafficking,” he added.

Judd said his department has identified “58 potential victims of human trafficking in one year” through these operations.

The significance is that this is “the most ever” they have been able to identify, Judd noted.

The sheriff also noted that 48 of those arrested were from Polk County, saying they “should know better.”

“We talk about this,” he explained.

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“We don’t hide it, and if you don’t know about it you obviously live under a rock.

“So, you’ve had to learn the hard way.”

For the rest, he offered a warning.

“This is not the last operation,” he advised.

“We’ll have more, and we’ll give you the opportunity to be arrested if you’re stupid enough to show up. That’s a guarantee.”

Of those arrested, 42 are married.

One was a commercial pilot.

There were members of the Air Force, sports coaches, law enforcement officers, and people in the medical profession.

Some were teachers, Judd revealed.

Two minors were also among those arrested.

“They came down to rob us,” Sheriff Judd said.

The sheriff added that the minors came armed with a BB gun that looked like a real gun.

“That could have gone really bad for them,” he said.

A total of 17 firearms were confiscated from 15 different suspects and 44 had possession of narcotics.

One of the men arrested was handling three illegal immigrant females from Venezuela.

He was holding the victims for the head of a sex trafficking ring, whom police believe is female.

“She sets up their appointments, she puts their ads online, she tells them where to go,” Sheriff Judd explained.

He added that the three victims had to “pay her $3,000 a piece” by the end of the week as a means of “paying off their debt.”

Sheriff Judd then said that the three victims told law enforcement that when they came to the United States illegally “DHS gave them a form, and ID paperwork that allows them to fly for free.”

So, while the three sex workers operate out of New York, they said they fly to major metropolitan areas for free “on the federal government where they set up their appointments for sex all around the country.”

Sheriff Judd said all 21 of the illegal immigrants told a “similar story” regarding their involvement in the sex trafficking scheme.

He noted that after they’ve been encouraged to cross the border illegally, they realize they can’t get work in America.

“We can’t work legally,” he recalled them saying.

“We’re addicted to this cash.

“It’s a lot of cash and it’s quick so we have to give $3,000 a week.

“We get to keep everything above that.”

“We have a crisis at the border,” Sheriff Judd asserted.

“Because of the crisis at the border, we have people that are victimizing illegal folks, forcing them into the sex trade because we allow these criminals in the country illegally.”

Judd also addressed headlines claiming that illegal immigrants “aren’t committing crime at any greater percentage than the people who are here legally.”

“What they didn’t tell you if they weren’t here illegally at all the crime they would commit here would be zero,” he noted.

“So, we’re being victimized.”

On June 3, 2022, the Florida Legislature passed House Bill 615.

The legislation creates a new duty for the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking (SCHT).

The duty is to determine how many times social media platforms are used to assist, facilitate, or support human trafficking within the Sunshine State.

To fulfill this requirement, the SCHT conducted a statewide survey of Florida’s 80 law enforcement agencies to record the number of times social media platforms were used to “facilitate human trafficking, trafficking operations, or control victims” since 2019.

According to the 2023 Annual Report, they discovered that 72 human trafficking instances were recorded using Facebook, 65 through Instagram, five through WhatsApp, and four using Facebook Messenger.

READ MORE – Biden Admin Official Arrested in Human Trafficking Sting

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By Frank Bergman

Frank Bergman is a political/economic journalist living on the east coast. Aside from news reporting, Bergman also conducts interviews with researchers and material experts and investigates influential individuals and organizations in the sociopolitical world.

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