POLK COUNTY, Fla. – A recent seven-day, multi-agency undercover prostitution investigation involving the Polk County Sheriff’s Office resulted in 160 arrests throughout Central Florida, Sheriff Grady Judd said Friday.
Dubbed “Fall Haul 2,” Judd said the operation focused on rescuing victims of human trafficking, enrolling them in social services and prosecuting their captors. Two trafficking victims were identified and directed toward such programs, the sheriff’s office said, with another five people identified as potential victims.
Judd held a news conference Friday morning to speak about the investigation. According to the sheriff’s office, the majority of those arrested in the operation are from the Orlando area.
”Many of these people were already well known to the criminal justice system. Only 16 of the 160 were from Polk County. I think the people of Polk County are about to get the message that if you come here and violate the law, we’re going to put you in jail, and (Polk-area State Attorney) Brian Haas and his prosecutors are going to prosecute you,” Judd said. “So, we’re pleased that it was only 16 of 160. Central Florida needs to catch a clue. If you come here to commit crime, you’re coming here to go to our jail.”
In a news release shared ahead of the conference, the sheriff’s office highlighted the arrests of certain people in the investigation: “school teachers, a state corrections officer, a Deputy Police Chief from Georgia, 26 married men, 15 people from other states and a Disney employee.” Judd on Friday went into greater detail about most on that shortlist.
A 36-year-old Davenport man working as a math teacher at New Dimensions High School in Osceola County was arrested as he sought to have sex with two undercover detectives, Judd said. Another teacher, a 26-year-old Gotha man employed in physical education at West Orange High School in Orange County, responded to an online escort advertisement and was arrested wearing a school track and field shirt, Judd said.
“Maybe he and the math teacher can talk about ‘How did you get here? Well, one and one added up to two.’ He said ‘Well, you know, I’m a track coach, I sprinted my way to jail,’” Judd said.
An ex-school employee who solicited an online escort advertisement was on the list, too. A 41-year-old former computer technician at Oak Ridge High School in Orange County was taken into custody while out on bond from a March arrest on accusations he engaged in a years-long sexual relationship with an underage student, Judd said.
The corrections officer mentioned in the preliminary release was described Friday as a 24-year-old, two-year employee of the Lake Correctional Institution, accused of two counts of soliciting a prostitute.
“Now think about this. This guy is in charge of people who are in prison for violating the law. He comes and he violates the law. So, birds of a feather flock together, and he’s in the jail as a jailbird like those jailbirds he watches,” Judd said.
Undercover detectives arrested a 57-year-old Winter Garden man employed as a bellhop at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, accused of soliciting a prostitute after responding in person to an online escort advertisement. Another man, a 61-year-old from Kentucky on vacation in Kissimmee, also responded to an online escort advertisement and faces the same misdemeanor charge; Judd said the Kentucky man is the owner of multiple pizza franchises.
“He said ‘Well, I’ve done this four times in the past.’ Have you discussed this with your wife? Did you get her permission? Did she say, ‘Go boy go?’ Apparently not,” Judd said. “So he told (a law enforcement officer), he says ‘I’m paying for an hour of sex, 15 minutes is all I need, I’m just gonna give her a tip.’ I guess kind of like the pizza delivery guy.”
Judd briefly discussed the man who was arrested last week while employed as an officer in Georgia, clarifying he had since resigned and “lost his career.”
“He did a very mean, nasty thing to his family, and he certainly embarrassed all the people of Cartersville (Georgia),” Judd said.
The sheriff was accompanied in part by representatives of social services organizations that participated in “Fall Haul 2.”
Dr. Marianne Thomas with the organization My Name My Voice talked about the importance of helping victims of human trafficking cooperate with law enforcement and “walk out of that life.”
“If you’re someone who I met on this operation, and you were under arrest, and you were there to sell yourself, I just want to remind you something you heard me say that night: ‘You don’t have to do this, you can do something different, I am standing here saying it can be done,’” Thomas said. “You are given a packet of paper with different phone numbers, call one of them. If you don’t get the answer you need, call the next one, but please make those calls. And if you’re someone who was arrested for purchasing a person, that’s not OK. We don’t buy people, that’s not OK. And so, I’m sorry we had to meet like this. But I’m really glad that we do this because I really hope you have learned a lesson here.”
My Name My Voice was joined in the operation by fellow social services organizations One More Child, Heartland for Children, Selah Freedom, and the Children’s Home Society of Florida.
Aside from arrests related to accused prostitution and lewdness crimes, a 29-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman who allegedly offered to trade cannabis for sex face child abuse and drug charges after meeting undercover detectives bearing a 2-year-old child and a pound of marijuana.
The sheriff’s office was joined in “Fall Haul 2″ by the Haines City, Lake Wales, Davenport, Bartow and Winter Haven police departments, Judd said.
A previous “Fall Haul” in 2019 lasted one month and also resulted in arrests for alleged sex crimes.
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