POLK COUNTY, Fla. — More than 120 people are facing prostitution and/or drug charges after a recent undercover investigation in Polk County.
The Polk County Sheriff's Office launched a six-day undercover investigation in hopes of catching criminals linked to prostitution, human trafficking and child predators.
Dubbed as "Operation Santa's Naughty List," 124 people were arrested on charges related to soliciting to commit prostitution, soliciting for prostitution, deriving proceeds from prostitution, traveling to meet a minor for sex, using a computer to seduce, solicit, or lure a child to commit sex and drug possession, according to deputies.
Area agencies also got in on the investigation, including Lakeland, Haines City, Winter Haven, Bartow, and Auburndale police departments.
The operation used online advertisements to set up meetings between undercover detectives and the suspects.
"The primary purpose for these operations is to identify victims of human trafficking and those who prey on the victims, as well as the deviant child predators who stalk children online." said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
There were seven women who came to the undercover location to commit prostitution, but may be victims of human trafficking. Two of those women were taken to shelters and introduced to anti-trafficking organizations for assistance and support. The organizations who were assisting with potential victims were Selah Freedom, One More Child, Heartland for Children, and National Children's Advocacy Center.
Each person who was arrested for prostitution was given immediate access to the members of the anti-trafficking organizations and offered assistance.
Five men were arrested for traveling to the operation with the intent to sexually harm a child. Two other suspects did not travel to the operation but solicited who they thought were children online - detectives obtained warrants for their arrest and they were located and arrested.
There were 53 people arrested for prostitution (a second-degree misdemeanor) and 46 were arrested who were seeking the services of a prostitute (a first-degree misdemeanor).
Eighteen people were arrested for various other charges, primarily aiding/transporting/deriving proceeds from prostitution.
Of the seven men arrested for preying on children, five of them traveled to the operation location with the intent to sexually batter a child. The two men who did not travel to the operation were located and arrested. They were both charged with Using a Computer to Seduce/Lure a Child (F3) and Use of 2-Way Communication Device to Commit a Felony (F3).
The seven child predators are:
Anthony Gavin, 33, of Davenport, thought he was chatting online with a 14-year-old boy when he said, "I don't wanna be labeled a pedophile." Gavin brought condoms to the location and when he was arrested, he told detectives that he was there, "because I'm stupid."
Pierre Alvarez, 21, of Davenport, believed he was communicating online with a 12-year-old girl. He sent nude photos of himself and discussed what he would like to do to the girl. Alvarez rode his bicycle to meet the girl and had a condom in his pocket when he was arrested.
Demitrus Gonzalez, 26, of Davenport, contacted an undercover detective, thinking that he was chatting with a 14-year-old boy. Gonzalez drove to the operation and brought lubricant, condoms, and Xanax with him. While being arrested, he bit a Lakeland Police Officer on the hand.
Joshua Bryant, 23, of Brandon, thought he was talking to a 14-year-old boy online and sent three nude photos and tried to arrange to pick up the boy. Bryant told the boy to sneak out of the house and that he could hide at Bryant's house if he was reported missing. After arriving at the location, Bryant got suspicious and collided with an undercover vehicle as he was trying to drive away.
Benjamin Castaneda, 24, of Orlando, made contact with what he thought was a 13-year-old girl online. In his texts, Castaneda wasted no time telling the undercover detective what he wanted to do with the girl. He drove to the location and arrived less than two hours after making initial contact and was arrested.
Matthew Minardi, 22, of Palm Harbor, began a sexually explicit conversation via social media with who he thought were two different 13-year-old girls, but both were actually undercover detectives. Minardi also sent a nude image of himself. He did not travel to the operation location, but was located and arrested by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
William Stemmermann, 53, of Kissimmee, chatted with and called an undercover detective, thinking she was a 13-year-old girl. He attempted to arrange to meet and requested photos to be sent to him. Stemmermann did not travel to the operation location but was located and arrested in Kissimmee.