On November 17th, various law enforcement officials attended a press conference at Tallahassee Police Department Headquarters to mark the conclusion of a large-scale human trafficking investigation conducted by the TPD over the last two years. The in-depth investigation resulted in the arrest of more than 170 people on charges ranging from solicitation of prostitution to human trafficking of a minor.
The investigation began in November 2018 when TPD investigators saw images of a child were being posted on a website that advertises sex for money. Investigators with TPD’s Special Victims Unit set up an operation to rescue the child to ensure her safety. This was a pivotal point in the operation, called “Stolen Innocence.”
“This investigation is a testament to how diligent our investigators work to enhance the quality of life for everyone in this community, especially our vulnerable population. They worked tirelessly to bring justice to the victim in this case and were able to make an unprecedented number of human trafficking related arrests,” Chief Lawrence Revell said. “I could not be prouder of the steadfast efforts of our investigators and the joint effort with our partners to stop the illegal and dehumanizing practice of human trafficking.”
The investigation uncovered an enormous amount of electronic evidence that required months to evaluate. The electronic evidence helped investigators further develop the case and determine how many suspects were involved and to what extent. As a result, 72 suspects were charged with misdemeanors and notices to appear, 106 suspects were charged with felonies and 18 face federal charges.
The TPD press release noted that human trafficking of minors involves the child being manipulated or forced into some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of individuals are trafficked worldwide. The base of human trafficking are the buyers, those charged with misdemeanors for solicitation of prostitution. Without buyers, human trafficking would not exist in such large numbers.
“It is difficult to comprehend the depravity of these criminals who prey on the most innocent in our society,” said Kevin Sibley, Homeland Security Investigations Tampa Acting Special Agent in Charge. “Thanks to the collective efforts of the Tallahassee Police Department and HSI special agents, our local communities are significantly safer today as a result of this investigation.”
It is estimated that 199,000 incidents of human trafficking occur within the United States every year, with Florida ranking in the top five states for highest number of reported cases.
TPD was assisted during this investigation by Homeland Security, United States Attorney of the Northern District of Florida, State Attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit, United States Marshals Service, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Leon County Sheriff’s Office.