March 10, 2024

USA: 228 Arrested In 8-day Multi-Agency Undercover Human Trafficking Investigation In Polk County, Florida. 13 Victims Were Rescued.


FOX 13 Tampa Bay published March 5, 2024: Polk County human trafficking bust leads to 228 arrests, 13 victims rescued. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd gives an update on an undercover human trafficking operation that led to 228 arrests and the rescue of 13 potential victims.
FOX 35 Orlando published March 6, 2024: Sheriff Grady Judd speaks on massive human trafficking sting. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd joined Good Day Orlando Wednesday morning to speak about the massive human trafficking sting operation his team recently conducted called "Operation March Sadness 2024".

According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, a teacher, coaches, medical professionals, and active military members were among the 228 arrested. (Clarification: The on-screen graphic in the video contained an error. There were 228 arrests, not 288.)

Fox13 News, Tampa, FL local
written by Staff
Tuesday March 5, 2024

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - Nearly 230 people were arrested, and 13 potential victims were rescued during an 8-day multi-agency undercover human trafficking investigation in Polk County.

According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, a teacher, coaches, medical professionals, and active military members were among those arrested during ‘Operation March Sadness 2024’.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd says there were 150 suspects arrested for soliciting a prostitute and traveling to the undercover location to negotiate to have sex in exchange for money; 12 other suspects were arrested, and of those, 8 were either deriving proceeds from prostitution or taking prostitutes to the undercover location.

Judd said 42 of the 228 arrested are from Polk County.

"Those of you from Polk County know better," Judd said. "We talk about this. We don’t hide it. If you don’t know about it, you obviously live under a rock. You had to learn the hard way, but for the rest of you – pay attention. This is not the last operation. We’ll have more and we’ll give you the opportunity to be arrested if you are stupid enough to show up."

Detectives charged a total of 70 felonies and 288 misdemeanors during the investigation. The suspects' criminal histories included a combined total of 879 felonies and 1,150 misdemeanors.

According to PCSO, detectives and social service organizations screened those accused of traveling to provide prostitution services to see if they were being trafficked or exploited by others. They were also offered social services by organizations that took part in the operation.

Judd says of the 66 suspected prostitutes that were arrested, 13 are possible human trafficking victims.

"In one year, we have identified 58 potential victims of human trafficking in one year with these operations. What’s significant about that? That’s the most we've ever been able to identify," Judd said.

He went on to state that the reason so many victims were able to be rescued is because the sheriff’s office included councilors in the operations from the beginning.

One man arrested said he was a volleyball coach from New York who tutored middle school students. According to Judd, the suspect said he wanted to pay $150 to have sex with a woman. He was also arrested last month in Hillsborough Couty for the same thing.

Another suspect told detectives he was a certified triathlon coach and athlete.

"The dude showed up with meth," Judd stated. "Does that help you perform better when you’re a triathlon athlete?"

A math and science teacher at New Beginnings High School in Auburndale was among those arrested, according to Judd.

"He came to have sex. He called it a quick visit for $60. Well, since he’s able to teach math, he can figure out that it didn’t add up this time," Judd said.

An IT specialist at Tampa General Hospital and a registered nurse at a Bay Area nursing home were also among those arrested.

An Air Force staff sergeant, an airman police officer and a 19-year-old scheduled to begin his Air Force training in May were also arrested.

A man who used to be a detention deputy with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office was also arrested. Judd says he was fired after he was arrested in Orange County. Judd added that he was also arrested in Polk County last month.

"Dude, what are you doing?" Judd asked. "You went from being a stellar employee to committing moral crimes, and it’s two in a month. He said, ‘I got a problem.' No kidding. You’ve got a big problem."

Among those arrested were two brothers from Wesley Chapel, ages 16 and 17, who showed up to the location armed with a BB gun, wearing hoodies and ski masks, and creeping around the undercover location as if they were about to commit an armed robbery of the undercover detective who was posing as a prostitute whom they solicited online.

"During these types of undercover investigations, I can truly say that we have ‘seen it all,’ and yet we are still surprised by some of the violent acts we encounter. These two teenagers were incredibly lucky that they did not brandish a firearm while stalking who they thought was a prostitute, at a location filled with law enforcement officers. This could have ended very badly for them. This should also illustrate just how dangerous it is to agree to have sex with someone in exchange for money - 13 other suspects brought firearms to the location."

Judd added that 21 of the 228 arrested are in the country illegally.

Judd says he believes a female human trafficker helped set up appointments for some of the rescued victims. He said she was Dominican and currently in Miami.

"If she doesn’t get her illegal Dominican butt on a plane and fly back out of this country, we’re going to be on her like a good hound dog on a trail," Judd stated.

Arrests by the Numbers
  • 21 of the arrested are suspected of being in the country illegally; Those who are here illegally are from Chile, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.
  • 41 suspects told detectives they are married.
  • 11 suspects told detectives they receive government assistance.
  • 44 suspects brought illegal drugs to the location: detectives seized fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, MDMA, hydrocodone, Xanax, methamphetamine, and marijuana.
  • 15 suspects brought firearms to the undercover location;
  • 17 firearms total were seized.
  • 18 suspects were from other states and Puerto Rico: Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
  • The oldest person arrested is 73 years old while the youngest is 16 years old.
"This is a new record number of arrests during an investigation of this kind," Judd stated. "More importantly, we identified 13 human trafficking victims; during two previous similar operations in February and October 2023, we identified 24 and 21 victims, respectively. That’s 58 victims we were able to identify in one year. The valuable relationships that we have with the social services organizations who join us in these operations make it possible for these women to get help and be emancipated from this way of life."

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