HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Hillsborough County deputies have arrested more than 100 people in connection to a five-month-long undercover investigation relating to human trafficking.
“I strongly believe that in order to eradicate human trafficking, we must continue to focus on reducing the demand,” Sheriff Chad Chronister said.
The investigation ran from June through the start of November.
Detectives began zeroing in on websites and forums known for soliciting sex, as well as strip clubs, massage parlors and motels throughout Hillsborough County. Then they had female detectives pose as prostitutes and male detectives pose as Johns.
Deputies said they debriefed every woman who was taken into custody to learn if they were being trafficked, and offered support services that were made available through organizations like the Salvation Army, Bridging Freedom and Created Tampa.
At a press conference on Monday, Chronister put a spotlight on a number of cases, including two where men allegedly tried to meet up with a teenage girl for sex.
Chronister said Jason Fitzgerald, 36, and Luis Colon, 29, each met up with an undercover detective who posed as the stepfather of a 14-year-old girl.
“Fitzgerald and Colon showed up at a trailer park in North Tampa. They began negotiating a price for sex with the child, and when they were told they could take their pick, having sex with a 14-year-old girl or a 13-year-old girl inside one of the trailers, they jumped at the chance to be with the even younger girl,” explained the Sheriff. “Predators like this do not belong on the streets of Hillsborough County.”
Both Fitzgerald and Colon were arrested and charged with human trafficking for commercial sexual activity, traveling to meet a minor to solicit certain illegal acts and unlawful use of a two-way communications device.
Chronister also mentioned the arrest of 29-year-old Steven Cook who tried to arrange a sexual encounter at a hotel with two women and an undercover detective.
Investigators say one of the women claimed Cook forced her to meet up and have sex with men even though she was in pain from a medical-related issue.
Cook, who is also a Latin King Gang Member, was charged with human trafficking and deriving proceeds of prostitution, among other charges.
“It’s chipping away and I think it definitely puts a dent in it, especially in our community. Maybe they won’t do it here,” said Dotti Groover-Skipper of the Salvation Army.