Polk County Human Trafficking Operation Leads to 228 Arrests

Polk County Human Trafficking Operation Leads to 228 Arrests

Polk County Human Trafficking Operation Leads to 228 Arrests

On February 22, 2024,  the Polk County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) Vice Unit had an eight-day operation, called “Operation March Sadness 2024,” which resulted in 228 arrests that involved human trafficking charges, solicitation, and prostitution.

The Undercover Operation

This operation took place primarily in the city of Lakeland and it was done with the collaboration of multiple agencies. This included the Auburndale Police Department, the Davenport Police Department, Haines City Police Department, Lakeland Police Department, Lake Hamilton Police Department, Lake Wales Police Department, St. Cloud Police Department, and Winter Haven Fire Rescue. The Office of the State Attorney 10th Judicial Circuit, State Attorney Brian Haas, members from the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), as well as the counselors from the social services organizations, also assisted.

The involvement of social services organizations like One More Child, Heartland for Children, and Selah Freedom assisted in providing support to victims. Their presence during the operation ensured that victims received the necessary assistance to break free from exploitation.

Who Was Arrested in Operation March Sadness?

Sheriff Grady Judd, in a press conference following the operation, revealed the gravity of the situation: “This is a new record number of arrests during an investigation of this kind.” The PCSO not only made arrests, but also identified 13 potential human trafficking victims among the 66 arrested sex workers. This is part of an ongoing effort, with 58 victims identified in the past year alone, through similar operations.

The operation uncovered a range of concerning details. Out of the arrested suspects, 21 were suspected of being in the country illegally, highlighting broader immigration concerns. Additionally, 41 suspects admitted to being married.

Detectives also found a variety of narcotics, including fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, MDMA, and methamphetamine, from 44 suspects. Furthermore, 15 suspects were found carrying firearms, posing significant risks to both law enforcement and potential victims.

Sheriff Judd recounted an incident involving two teenagers armed with a BB gun where they intended to rob an undercover detective posing as a prostitute. Such incidents underscore the dangers inherent in soliciting prostitution and engaging in criminal activities.

“During these types of undercover investigations, I can truly say that we have ‘seen it all’ and yet we are still surprised by some of the violent acts we encounter,” Judd said, noting that the teens were lucky they did not reveal firearms while they were under surveillance from numerous law enforcement officers, but it also shows how dangerous it can be to engage in sex work.

The findings of the suspects involved in human trafficking were complex. From married individuals to those with criminal histories including violent felonies, the operation revealed the diverse backgrounds of those involved.

Call for Legal Help if You Were Caught Up in a Prostitution or Human Trafficking Sting

A local non-profit called Selah Freedom is working with several places in Polk County to educate adults about what sex trafficking is, how they can spot it, and what they can do to keep themselves and their communities safe.

Prostitution is illegal but anyone who has been charged deserves a reliable criminal defense attorney. Call The Umansky Law Firm to speak with an experienced lawyer, including for any firearm, drug, or solicitation charge.

Polk County Human Trafficking Operation Leads to 228 Arrests