Nov. 18 (UPI) — Florida authorities say a sting operation has netted more than 170 suspects after a two-year investigation into a child sex trafficking ring in the state.
The suspects face charges that range from solicitation of prostitution to human trafficking of a minor. The investigation was known as “Operation Stolen Innocence.”
Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell said the operation began in November 2018 when investigators saw images of a teenage girl on a website that advertised sex for money. Police set up the sting to rescue the girl and it ultimately led to dozens of arrests.
“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,” Revell said in a statement. “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.”
More than 70 suspects were charged with misdemeanors, more than 100 were charged with felonies and 18 face federal charges, Revell said.
Much of evidence came from electronic sources like text messages and posts to social media that officials said took “months to evaluate.”
The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Attorney’s office and state and local law enforcement officials were all part of the operation.
Tallahassee police investigator Elizabeth Bascom told reporters that the young teenage girl who worked with police was subjected to “horrific” abuse and exploitation that probably began before she even turned 13. She is expected to testify in court.
“She was able to say that this has seriously impacted her life, and it is very difficult at times,” Bascom said. “But she is working to get her life back.”
“It is difficult to comprehend the depravity of these criminals who prey on the most innocent in our society,” added Kevin Sibley, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations Tampa. “Thanks to the collective efforts of the Tallahassee Police Department and HSI special agents, our local communities are significantly safer today.”