POLK COUNTY, Fla. – An intensive, six-day prostitution sting focusing on human trafficking – including those soliciting sex from minors – netted 104 arrests in Polk County, the sheriff’s office said.
An active-duty U.S. Air Force captain from Brevard County who coaches Little League and a 51-year-old Melbourne man with military ties were among those arrested, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
The undercover sting was the latest and one of the largest for the county, which has carried out a number of similar arrests in previous operations that are held at least twice a year.
Last week's operation targeted those who either advertised online for sex or who responded to internet-based advertisements set up by undercover investigators. The agents rented a home and set up online profiles.
Polk County sheriff’s officials said several of those arrested in Operation "March Sadness," as the investigation was dubbed by authorities, were traveling prostitutes who journeyed state to state to trade sex for cash. Some were from Ohio, Texas and New York.
“We suspect that some of the people who arrived at our undercover location are victims of human trafficking,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said in a statement.
Investigators said 32-year-old Dirk Watson, of Merritt Island, was charged with use of a computer to seduce a child, use of a two-way communication device, traveling to meet a minor and lewd molestation after investigators said he traveled to Polk to meet with someone whom he thought was a 14-year-old girl.
Investigators said Watson is an active-duty captain stationed at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and a coach for his son’s Little League baseball team.
“It’s very disturbing,” said Carrie Horstman, a spokeswoman for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. “He went online, found the profile and initiated the conversation with someone he thought was a 14-year-old. He asked her age and asked if she was a virgin. Usually, it takes a day or two before they work up the confidence to do something like this, but he came out to meet with her two hours after initiating the contact, all while his family was visiting Disney."
A 51-year-old Melbourne man identified as John Hamilton was also taken into custody after Polk County authorities said he arrived at the undercover officer’s location to have sex with people whom he thought were two prostitutes. Investigators said Hamilton is a retired Air Force major.
Another Melbourne man was charged with solicitation of prostitution, and Gregory Aramini, of Rockledge, and Gary Harrison, of Cocoa, were both charged with deriving proceeds from prostitution, records show.
Agents identified 38 of those arrested as prostitutes and another 51 as people soliciting prostitution. A total of 37 felony charges and 128 misdemeanor charges were filed against the 104 suspects.