79 men were arrested in Hillsborough County as part of "Operation Takedown," an undercover operation that took place during a week-long anti-human trafficking operation.
The operation spanned from March 30 to April 9, 2021 ahead of WrestleMania throughout all of Hillsborough county. Undercover detectives conducted chat, hotel, and streetwalker operations that led to the arrests.
Our primary mission during this week-long operation and any operation of its kind, is to put an end to the despicable act of human trafficking.#OperationTakedown resulted in the arrests of 79 individuals and the rescue of three victims from the grasp of human trafficking. pic.twitter.com/d9ia2EjJwJ
— HCSO (@HCSOSheriff) April 15, 2021
Detectives say two men, Jason Brooks, 44, of Tampa, and Jamel Muldrew, 32, of Houston, Texas, were both arrested on human trafficking charges. Brooks was arrested after he responded to a decoy prostitution advertisement. He believed he was going to pay for sex with a 17-year-old girl, deputies say.
Muldrew had been transporting a 17-year-old victim for the sole purpose of commercial sexual acts. On top of one count of human trafficking, Muldrew faces charges of Transporting for Prostitution and Deriving Support from the Proceeds of Prostitution.
An additional two victims were recovered as a result of "Operation Takedown." Selah Freedom offered support to the human trafficking victims.
"This operation helped rescue three females from the perils of human trafficking," said Sheriff Chronister. "Unfortunately, the only thing wrong with this number, is that we know there are more victims. I want to remind everyone, that if you see something, say something. By reporting anyone you think may be a victim of these heinous crimes, you could be saving a life."
Rusty Harden, 41, also of Tampa, is a registered sex offender, and was arrested on multiple felony charges after he sent explicit messages and photos to an undercover detective he believed was a 14-year-old girl. He traveled on foot to meet the "juvenile," only to be greeted by detectives, authorities say. He was one of four men who faced a charge of Traveling to Meet a Minor After Using Services/Devices to Solicit Certain Illegal Acts.
Detectives also arrested Earnest Benjamin, 39, a local pastor at Breath of Life Worship Church in Tampa, and Christopher Ray, 39, a girls high school basketball coach at Land O' Lakes High School.
"Both of these men, trusted and revered members of our community, were arrested for Soliciting Another to Commit Prostitution," explained Sheriff Chronister.
Local law enforcement partners, including the Orange County, Pasco, and St. John's County Sheriff's Office arrested individuals located out of Hillsborough County's jurisdiction. The Lakeland Police Department and Cape Coral Police Department also made arrests throughout "Operation Takedown."