Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Public safety

Sting targets 'brazen' prostitution on U.S. 19 in Pasco

HUDSON — At 10 a.m. Wednesday, Charlena Steelman got into her car, left her house and headed toward the grocery store. While waiting to turn onto U.S. 19, Steelman saw a woman standing on the edge of the road, flashing her breasts at drivers. Steelman, a 33-year-old wife and mother of four, had enough.

"It infuriated me," said Steelman, who said she's been calling authorities for years complaining about prostitution along U.S. 19 near her home in Country Club Estates, which is north of Beacon Woods Drive. She usually leaves anonymous tips, but on Wednesday, she gave her name and roared.

"I cannot handle this anymore," she told a Pasco Sheriff's Office detective. "We shouldn't have to live like this."

Steelman said she demanded this problem to be handled.

And it was.

By coincidence, the agency had planned to do a prostitution sting that day, said Pasco Sheriff's Office media coordinator Melanie Snow. She said the agency has received "a large number of tips" from citizens recently about increased prostitution activity, even during daylight hours.

"They were getting more brazen," Snow said.

The undercover detectives posed as interested men along U.S. 19 from Hudson to Holiday Wednesday afternoon. The agents were propositioned sexually by 17 women and one man who was dressed as a woman, sheriff's reports state. Those 18 people were arrested and charged with solicitation of prostitution.

Steelman said she and her husband have lived in the area for about eight years, but the issues with prostitution have increased these past few years. Her children were not with her in the car Wednesday, but they were with her two years ago when another woman along U.S. 19 flashed her breasts at cars stopped at a red light. Steelman said some male drivers gave the woman money. Steelman said she has seen people having sex in parked cars.

"It's just gotten way worse," she said.

But she refused to leave.

"I shouldn't have to move," she said. "They should have to move."

There were seven alleged prostitutes arrested in Hudson, but Steelman doesn't think the problem is solved.

"They get arrested periodically all the time and they come right back," she said. "This needs to be something that is progressively attacked and watched."

She urges all citizens to call and report suspicious activity: "If we don't clean it, who will?"

"I was out today and I didn't see a soul," she said Thursday. "It made me very happy."

Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.

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