Undercover police officers in Florida have arrested 61 people in one of the region’s largest human trafficking busts ever – hauling in a former Baltimore cop, a PGA golf instructor and a john who wanted to pay for sex with a $30 winning lottery ticket.
The four-day operation carried out by the Polk County sheriff’s office used undercover cops to target suspects who posted ads online and were believed to be prostitutes or involved in the sex trade.
"We’ve seen firsthand the negative social costs of how prostitution hurts families, children, and communities," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said, according to the Tampa Bay Tribune. "And more often than not, there is a high correlation between other crimes and prostitution. We see repeat criminal offenders with criminal arrest histories to include illegal drugs, violent crime and property crime, and these repeat criminal offenders engage in sex for money."
Among those arrested was Adrian Hernandez, who attempted to pay an undercover detective for sex using a bundle of cash and a winning $30 scratch-off lottery ticket. Hernandez was also found in possession of what police described as a 'meth pipe.'
Another two culprits – Jazmin Alvelo and Glenda Maldonado – were arrested when Maldonado offered $300 for sex to an undercover officer at a set-up location. Alvelo, who was one of four people arrested for deriving proceeds from the prostitution ring, was waiting in a car with a 3-year-old child for Maldonado to return.
Both women face drug charges along with the prostitution arrest and each has a long rap sheet with charges ranging from grand theft, aggravated assault, and drug possession.
Along with the women arrested for prostitution, a former Baltimore police officer, Mete Girit, was apprehended after posting an ad offering "male escort services" and then asking for $200 for sex.
"A search of Girit's vehicle revealed a Baltimore Police Department Officer's badge belonging to Girit,'' the Sheriff's Office told the Orlando Sentinel. "Girit told detectives he had retired in 2009 after injuring his knee chasing a 'homicide suspect.'"
In total, 13 suspects claimed to be married, 11 were on public assistance, and in total the suspects had combined 332 previous felonies, misdemeanors or failures to appear charges.
"Human trafficking is a crime," Judd said. "We have found a direct nexus between prostitution and human trafficking, and we combat this crime by conducting undercover prostitution investigations. Whether it is on the street or online, prostitution, and the crimes it attempts to disguise, is illegal and we will continue to investigate and arrest those involved."