HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — A five-month-long undercover investigation related to human trafficking in Hillsborough County has led to the arrest of more than 100 people.
Deputies said the focus of the investigation was on eradicating human trafficking in Hillsborough County. Deputies say 76 of those arrested were men purchasing sex and 28 were women who engaged in the sex trade.
“I strongly believe that in order to eradicate human trafficking, we must continue to focus on reducing the demand," Sheriff Chad Chronister said.
Throughout the course of the operation, which ran from June through the start of November, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Special Investigations Division arrested a total of 104 people.
Among those facing charges, deputies say 36-year-old Jason Fitzgerald and 29-year-old Luis Colon were arrested while trying to pay for sex with a 14-year-old girl from an undercover deputy. The sheriff's office says the men both met individually with the detective who they believed to be the stepfather of the underage 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," said Sheriff Chronister. "Predators like this do not belong on the streets of Hillsborough County."
"As we get closer to major events coming to Tampa next year, like the Super Bowl, WrestleMania and even the Final Four, I want to make it clear that human trafficking will not be tolerated in Hillsborough County," said Sheriff Chad Chronister. "This undercover operation is evidence of our commitment to putting an end to this despicable act."
Steven Cook, 29, was arrested at a hotel when he brought two women for a sex exchange he organized, deputies say. The sheriff's office says Cook is a member of the Latin King gang.
“We want to make it clear that human trafficking will not be tolerated in Hillsborough County," Sheriff Chronister said. "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.”
The sheriff's office says the operation focused on websites and forums known for soliciting sex in addition to strip clubs, massage parlors and motels throughout the county.