POLK COUNTY, Fla. — A undercover human trafficking and online prostitution sting in Florida has resulted in 277 arrests that including doctors, lawyers and even a member of law enforcement.
“That’s the most we have ever arrested in the history of the sheriff’s office,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told local television station WNCN.
The week of Oct. 10, undercover detectives with Judd’s office posted ads on websites and mobile phone apps either pretending to be a prostitute or seeking one. Some that were a part of the sting also responded to existing solicitations that were uploaded by prostitutes.
Various respondents, ages 16 to 74, drove to one of two designated locations to—they thought—engage in sex acts. They were then taken into custody and charged.
“Fifty-one of the arrests were for those who advertise as prostitutes online. 209 of the arrests were those who solicited undercover detectives who posted ads posing as prostitutes,” the sheriff’s department outlined in a news release. “Seventeen other arrests were made of those who derive proceeds from prostitution, or other offenses.”
According to local television station Fox 13, Judd was saddened when it was discovered that one of the respondents was from his own office.
Sgt. Luis Diaz, who had worked in law enforcement for 17 years, had agreed to pay $100 for sex. He was taken into custody at his home.
“We are absolutely embarrassed,” Judd told reporters. “He apologized for putting us in that position and immediately resigned from the sheriff’s office.”
Others arrested “include a cancer surgeon who works at Tampa General Hospital, an internist in residence at Lakeland Regional Health, several pharmacists, and a colonel in the United States Marines,” Fox 13 reports.
However, the majority of the respondents were from outside Polk County or were visiting the state from New York, New Jersey, Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and even Oregon.
“Interestingly enough, of the 277 arrests, only 62 of them resided in Polk County,” Judd explained. “Those 62 people obviously live under a rock because we’ve had all kinds of operations in the past, warning people on the radio and television and the newspaper that we’re gonna do this again. So here you go; here’s your sign.”
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office had conducted a similar sting in March, and 104 were arrested at that time. When asked why there seems to be such a large response to the solicitations, Judd replied, “Sex sells. It is the most powerful thing in the world, and it brings down kingdoms.”
Those arrested this month now face a collective total of 334 charges, most of which will be misdemeanor offenses. According to the Bradenton Herald, those convicted generally will receive a year of probation and a $1,000 fine.