A multi-agency operation led to the arrests of more than 200 people allegedly involved in human trafficking in Polk County, Florida. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said more than half of the victims were smuggled into the United States illegally across the southern border.
Of the 24 victims identified as having been trafficked, “14 of these women are illegally in this country,” Judd said. “Did you hear this? Did you clearly hear what I said?
Fourteen of them are illegally here in the country. For me, the bombshell is that 13 of them are Cubans, and one is Mexican, they all came to us through the southern border.”
Judd also sparked a row with politicians who were arguing about border security, saying, “We hear the political stanzas for 30 seconds about ‘Oh, the border is porous…’ No it’s not.” “The borders are safe,” “No, they are not.” “There is really no crisis at the border.”
In response, he said, “Yeah, there’s a crisis at the border. Wake up. Someone in Washington with more than five brain cells needs to listen to this. Asking them to get five brain cells is probably too much. Let’s shoot three brain cells.” “.
The female victims, he said, “have all arrived within the past two years: the majority within the past six months, some in the past two weeks.
“They were paying off transportation debts, and being smuggled into the United States for sex,” he said. “Their families were threatened if they didn’t come here and do what they were supposed to do to pay off the debt.”
The Florida mayor also expressed frustration with the lack of security at the border, saying, “It’s not enough that we have illegal entries… What everyone ignores are the smugglers and fentanyl that kills thousands upon thousands of our people every day. The methamphetamine smugglers, they all come across that border with Fentanyl smugglers.
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“People traffickers force ladies across this border to have sex so they can force you, and yet we don’t do what we need to do,” he said, comparing the actions of the Biden administration to a house flooding from leaking pipe. He said the federal government claims to be mopping the floor, but “at the same time the pipe is still pumping more water” on it, he said. He said that the “first thing you do” to prevent a pipe leak from flooding the house is “find the source and shut off the valve. And then you get the problem out and fix it.” He said the federal government does not.
“The Cubans said they came here through Nicaragua,” Judd said, via Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to enter the United States illegally. He said that “wolves”, people smugglers, brought them to the United States, according to interviews with victims.
Related: Trafficking victim reveals it takes 5 to 13 years to ‘buy’ your freedom
He said that investigators are still searching for who organized the smuggling operations, by what means, when and where.
And Judd added, “We caught the seller and the buyer.” “This is what we did today. But we know that the seller and the buyer are only the beginning of the chain. It is not the end of the chain.”
Officers exposed the human trafficking ring during a seven-day undercover operation, “Operation Traffic Stop,” from February 6-12. The Polk County Deputy Sheriff’s Office unit, which works with multiple agencies, has arrested 213 suspects.
Judd said the officers were looking for “victims of human trafficking, those who were coerced into participating, those who were coerced into participation, and those who were treated inhumanely.” “Not only have we arrested more suspects during this single operation than we have arrested before, we have identified 24 victims of human trafficking – the largest number of victims ever rescued during one of these investigations.”
They arrested 111 prostitutes. Among them, 24 have been identified as potential victims of human trafficking.
Another 89 suspects were arrested for soliciting a prostitute who “traveled to a specified secret location to negotiate sex for money”. Another 13 were arrested, 10 of whom either “earned proceeds from prostitution or aided and abetted prostitutes,” according to the sheriff’s office.
Many of those arrested already had criminal histories, including violent felonies ranging from kidnapping and robbery to aggravated assault and sexual offences. Al-Sharif said the Anti-Corruption Service (PCSO) had previously arrested five during a secret operation last September.
One of the people arrested was an elected member of the San Diego Del Mar Union School District. Goode said Dr. Scott Wooden, a molecular biologist who owned a massage parlor, was in town visiting his elderly parents when he was arrested after allegedly asking a sex worker for $200.
The school district issued a statement, saying that Wooden “has resigned from the district governing board of trustees immediately” and that the board is “currently exploring options to fill the vacancy.”
Related: Florida Police Dismantle Sex Trafficking Ring Arising From Illegal Border Crossings
The officers involved in the operation also confiscated fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana, as well as firearms.
The ages of those arrested ranged from 19 to 68 years. In all, the detainees were charged with 68 felonies and 308 misdemeanours.
The operation involved investigators from the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and police departments in Auburndale, Winter Haven, Haines City, Lake Wales, Lakeland, Davenport, and Bartow. Also involved were the 10th Judicial District of the State Attorney General’s Office, State Representative Brian Haas, and the Florida Department of Children and Families. Several organizations provided assistance to the victims, including One More Child, Heartland for Children, My Name My Voice, Selah Freedom, and the Children’s Home Society Child Advocacy Center.
Published with permission from The Center Square.