Police officers in Florida have arrested 125 people suspected of human trafficking including a teacher and a pastor.
The announcement was made by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, which is located in the city of Tampa in the south-eastern US state of Florida, yesterday (Monday 18th October).
The police said that their 20-day operation had resulted in 125 arrests and the rescue of four women and a teenager.
They said that due to the “unfortunate success” of their operation, they created a “Human Trafficking Squad” that will feature 12 dedicated members tasked with combating human trafficking and rescuing victims.
The statement said: “The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office conducted a 20-day operation combating human trafficking resulted in 125 arrests, and the rescue of 5 individuals believed to be victims of human trafficking.
“Throughout the investigation dubbed ‘Operation Round-Up,’ which began on August 4, 2021, and ended on October 13, 2021, undercover detectives targeted criminals who attempted to prey upon minors, sought sex for themselves, or exploited victims through human trafficking.”
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister is quoted in the statement as saying: “Individuals who make a conscious choice and effort to take advantage of others through human trafficking have no room in Hillsborough County.”
The sheriff added: “Our approach and efforts year-round are proactive and relentless. Our strong team of detectives will continue to work tirelessly to takedown and put a stop to human trafficking.”
The police statement also said: “Detectives arrested Joel Velasco, 38, a Hillsborough County Public School teacher, and Samuel Phillips Jr., 44, a pastor at Be Limitless Church.”
Sheriff Chronister added: “These men who were all held to a standard of trust and respect were all arrested for soliciting another to commit prostitution.”
The police statement continued: “Detectives also arrested two men for the Transmission of Harmful Material to a Minor, one of whom was charged with Traveling to Meet a Minor After Using Comp Services/Devices to Solicit Certain Act.
“This operation also helped rescue four women and one teenager from the heinous grasp of human trafficking. The victims were recovered and referred to Selah Freedom, which then offered needed support and resources.
“Because of the unfortunate success of this operation and others alike, HCSO has created a Human Trafficking Squad. This team of 12 dedicated members will uphold the commitment to ending human trafficking in Hillsborough County by reducing the demand, and rescuing victims.” (sic)