By Moira Ritter
The Charlotte Observer
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HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — A man was arrested on his honeymoon after Florida cops say he left his sleeping wife to meet a sex worker.
The 34-year-old newlywed thought he was meeting up with someone to pay for sex, but he was instead met by an undercover cop and placed under arrest immediately, officials said. The man is one of 176 arrests that the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Human Trafficking Squad has made since April, Sheriff Chad Chronister said during an Aug. 25 news conference.
Most of the 176 arrested men face charges related to the solicitation of prostitution, sometimes with minors, Chronister said. All of them made contact with deputies when they tried to purchase sex.
The Human Trafficking Squad was established on June 14, 2021, as a part of the department’s efforts to reduce illegal acts of prostitution and human trafficking, especially crimes involving children. The squad’s focus is diminishing the demand for sex work and human trafficking, Chronister said.
“We believe if we dry up the demand, there won’t be human trafficking because no one will be able to profit off a young child, a young girl or boy, or any adult because there will be no demand for it,” the sheriff said.
The squad’s latest sting started in April when deputies created a fake ad online pretending to be a father looking to traffic his 14-year-old daughter.
“It’s concerning that the response that that we received was pretty overwhelming,” Chronister said. “And when you read the communication that these individuals wanted to do with these young boys, or they wanted to do with these young girls, it is repulsive.”
In the course of the investigation, the team rescued two teenage girls from human traffickers, according to the sheriff. The two girls, ages 16 and 17, were reported missing by their families from Massachusetts. Deputies found the girls with three men, two of whom have been identified as human traffickers.
The sheriff’s office is collaborating with federal law enforcement to determine whether the two men are involved in other trafficking cases, Chronister said.
The squad is also aware of a group of men who deputies say coerced minors to have sex with them, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office. Ten of these men have been arrested after deputies say they communicated with undercover cops acting as children.
“When the opportunity arose to meet, some did not take the bait, while others got in their cars and drove, hoping to meet with a minor. Instead, they found themselves, thankfully, face to face with our deputies, and were quickly arrested,” the release says.
Since its inception, the Human Trafficking Squad has made a total of 360 arrests and eight rescues, the release says.
NEXT: How law enforcement can use digital technology to intercept human trafficking
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