POLK COUNTY, Fla. – Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd held a news conference Wednesday to discuss the results of a multi-agency gang racketeering investigation into members of the group “Sex Money Murder.”
The investigation — which Judd said officially began in March 2021 — led to 41 suspects now facing a combined total of 121 felony and 40 misdemeanor charges. Detectives working the investigation were able to pinpoint the ranking structure of “Sex Money Murder” largely through court-ordered wiretaps, and probable cause to pursue gang racketeering charges in accordance with the RICO Act was found for 12 members throughout Florida and North Carolina, Judd said.
As a whole, the investigation involved detectives with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office’s Organized Crime Unit, the Florida Department of Corrections, FDLE and the Florida Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution, as well as help from Auburndale, Haines City and Lake Wales police.
According to Judd, Polk and its neighboring counties experienced a string of home invasion robberies and other violent crimes associated with members of “Sex Money Murder” from 2018-20, including two shooting deaths that Judd singled out as examples of why the investigation was necessary.
“Those were the first two cases in over a decade that our homicide team was not able to solve. Do you know why? No one’s talking. They’re either gang-related and/or they’re scared to death of the gangsters,” Judd said.
Judd said the crime spree spurred his agency to seek help from Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody.
“We did intensive investigative efforts to put people in jail, and we were arresting people and sending them to prison all along the way, but we weren’t slowing down the problem. So in May of 2021, we asked our top cop in the state, Ashley Moody, our attorney general and her team, ‘Can you help us out?,’” Judd said. “For the first time in the history of Polk County, we did a dang wiretap... where we listened to social media apps, where we listened to cell phones and their communications through court orders.”
When detectives began working with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to write the probable cause to prove ongoing gang activity and attain permission to wiretap, Judd said it took months to articulate, eventually leading to nine court-ordered intercepts which began in September 2021 and resulted in the imposition of 12 racketeering charges with gang enhancements against high-ranking “Sex Money Murder” members.
Moody was present at the conference Wednesday, held in the Sheriff’s Operations Center in Winter Haven, where she blamed “Hollywood” for glorifying gang violence and lauded all involved with the collaborative investigation.
“Gang members are merchants of death,” Moody said, “they sell poison, they traffic drugs, they murder, they harm, they break into homes, they rob people at gunpoint, and no one in our community should have sympathy for people who would inflict that harm on a community.”
“The great thing about this victory today, and I would call it a triumph of good over evil, is that this was not about any pride of any one particular agency or any one particular prosecutor. This was a collaborative effort, and the pride comes from the success of that joint operation,” Moody said.
Among the 41 charged, some are currently imprisoned, some are on the run and two are located in North Carolina.
Referring to Hernando Thompson, currently undetained and labeled as the leader of “Sex Money Murder” in Florida, Judd said he will go to prison for the rest of his life on gang racketeering charges when, not if, he is caught.
“You might as well call Crime Stoppers and turn him in and make some cash, because we’re going to catch him and we’re not going to stop looking for him until we do,” Judd said.
Repeatedly, Sheriff Judd said that Wednesday’s news conference was not the end of “Sex Money Murder,” nor of the expansive investigation into the gang.
“I think it’s a major disruption for the time being. Does this wipe out the gang? I wish I could stand up here and say yes, it doesn’t. But, it staggers them for a time being and it also gives us the opportunity to get more investigative leads to go further with the case and make other charges. Oh, yeah, and by the way, this is just the beginning. You see that? ‘Investigation to be continued,’” Judd said.
Watch the news conference in its entirety on the PCSO Facebook page by clicking here.