Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office ran Operation Trade Secrets 2 over a 5-month period, and made 104 arrests, according to a press conference. Of those individuals, 76 were men purchasing sex, and 28 were women working in the sex trade. Between January and June of this year, the department ran the first part of Operation Trade Secrets, also aimed at cracking down on human trafficking.
Sheriff Chad Chronister drew attention to what he described as two of the “more despicable” cases the force encountered.
On June 21, police arrested Jason Fitzgerald, 36, and Luis Colon, 29, after they tried trying to buy sex with a 13-year-old girl from an undercover officer.
A deputy posed as the stepfather of a 14-year-old girl trying to sell her for sex at a trailer park in north Tampa. The men arranged a time to meet up with the child to perform acts that are “so repulsive that I won’t even begin to describe them,” Chronister said. The suspects negotiated a price to have sex with the girl, he said.
“When they were told they could have their pick with a 14-year-old or a 13-year-old girl who was also inside the trailer, they quickly jumped at the chance to be with the even younger child. Predators like this don’t belong on the streets in Hillsborough County,” said Chronister.
In July, undercover deputies arrested Steven Cook, 29, at a hotel where he had taken two women for a sex exchange that he organized, according to police. Chronister described Cook as a “pimp” and a gang member. Cook forced one of the women to have sex with men despite her complaints of pain caused by a medical condition, Chronister said.
The stings saw woman detectives posing as sex workers and men as buyers, the sheriff said. Staff also pored over websites and forums known for soliciting sex, as well as targeting strip clubs, massage parlous and motels.
Chronister acknowledged the Tampa Bay area has a reputation as the “strip club capital of the world.” In the run-up to major upcoming events such as the Superbowl, WrestleMania, and the Final Four, Chronister said the force wants to “make it clear that human trafficking will not be tolerated in Hillsborough County.
“Purchasing another human being for sex is wrong, is never consensual, and is a sure fire way to land yourself in jail in this county,” he said.
The operation focused on buyers, Chronister said. Counsellors were sent to jails to talk to the 28 women to see if they could be “brave and bold enough” to break the cycle which has lead them to selling sex. He pointed out many women depend on traffickers to feed addictions, and for clothes, food and money.
During the first phase of the operation earlier this year, the department arrested 85 individuals.