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During a seven-day undercover human trafficking operation, which began on Tuesday, September 19, 2023, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Vice Unit arrested 219 suspects. Detectives from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Auburndale PD, Bartow PD, Davenport PD, Lakeland PD, Lake Hamilton PD, Lake Wales PD, Winter Haven PD, Zephyrhills PD, assisted with the investigation. The Office of the State Attorney 10th Judicial Circuit, State Attorney Brian Haas, members from the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), and social services organizations One More Child; Heartland for Children; My Name My Voice; Selah Freedom; and the Children’s Home Society Child Advocacy Center, were also on-hand.
Those who travelled to provide prostitution services were screened by detectives and the social services organizations to determine if they were being trafficked or exploited by others, and were offered services by the social services organizations at the operation. During this investigation, 21 possible human trafficking victims were identified of the 119 prostitutes who were arrested. Two suspects were charged with human trafficking, a life felony:
Freddy Escalona, DOB 9/6/1993, of Chicago, Illinois, was charged with Human Trafficking (F1), and Deriving Proceeds from Prostitution (F2). Escalona loaned a victim money to fix her car and made her prostitute herself to pay back the money. He drove the victim to the undercover location, and was taken into custody. He told detectives that he had “several females that he worked” who paid him to transport them and “keep them safe.” The investigation is ongoing, and further charges are pending.
Maria Guzman, DOB 5/29/1987, of Orlando, was charged with Human Trafficking (F1), and Deriving Proceeds. Guzman trafficked two victims from a hotel in Orlando. She set up their “dates” and profited from the money they made.
There were 83 suspects arrested for soliciting a prostitute and traveling to the undercover location to negotiate having sex in exchange for money; 17 other suspects were arrested, and of those, 5 were either deriving proceeds from prostitution or aiding and abetting prostitutes, and 8 drove the prostitutes to the undercover location.
Detectives charged a total of 44 felonies and 242 misdemeanors during the investigation.
“Not only did we arrest more suspects during this single operation than we have ever arrested before, we identified 21 human trafficking victims; during a similar operation in February, we identified 24 victims. That’s 45 victims we were able to identify this year. The valuable relationships that we have with the social services organizations who join us in these operations make it possible for these women to get help and be emancipated from this way of life.” – Grady Judd, Sheriff
Some interesting notes from the operation: