Advertisement
  1. Breaking News

Hillsborough Sheriff's Office sweep results in more than 80 arrests, one human trafficking charge

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister speaks during a news conference Monday in Ybor City. The sheriff announced the results in 85 arrests in a sting called Operation Trade Secrets. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister speaks during a news conference Monday in Ybor City. The sheriff announced the results in 85 arrests in a sting called Operation Trade Secrets. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Jun. 24

Click here to read this story in Spanish.

TAMPA — More than 80 people have been arrested as part of a months-long human trafficking sting, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister announced Monday.

Of the 85 arrests made during the investigation, though, only one person was arrested on a sex trafficking charge.

Most people arrested during the Sheriff's Office sweep face prostitution-related charges. Almost 40 people are charged with offering to commit prostitution. Just over 30 are charged with soliciting another to commit prostitution.

RELATED COVERAGE: State prosecutors struggle with human trafficking cases

The undercover investigation started Jan. 1 and was called "Operation Trade Secrets." The sting focused on hotels, motels, spas, massage parlors, strip clubs, adult bookstores and sex trade activities in Hillsborough County, Chronister said.

The Sheriff's Office targeted "johns," Chronister said, with undercover deputies soliciting for sex. But about half of the people arrested were women on charges of offering to commit prostitution.

"The only way to get proof of victims of human trafficking is to do an operation like this," Chronister said during a news conference Monday. "You don't know who's there on their own free will … and who's being forced to have sex. It's probably one of the biggest challenges of interviewing these individuals.

"I believe the only way we're going to combat human trafficking is by targeting the desire. By reducing the desire to those individuals who are seeking to have sex for profit."

People were arrested in Brandon, Gibsonton, Ruskin, Seffner and Tampa during the sting. Some face additional charges unrelated to human trafficking or prostitution, including possession of a controlled substance, lewd and lascivious behavior, possession of child pornography, practicing massage without a license and child neglect.

Chronister said the efforts behind "Operation Trade Secrets" will continue. Monday's announcement was just a "progress report," he said.

The only person charged with human trafficking in the investigation is Marcell Walsh, 40, of Tampa. Walsh was arrested on April 18. A 24-year-old woman he was with at an Embassy Suites hotel in Tampa at 10220 Palm River Road told detectives Walsh was forcing her into prostitution, the Sheriff's Office said. The woman was not charged and was referred to the Salvation Army to receive services and counseling.

In the future, Chronister said he hopes former prostitutes employed by a nonprofit called Created Tampa work with the Sheriff's Office by encouraging human trafficking victims to come forward.

Created Tampa is a Christian organization "committed to the restoration of vulnerable women involved in the sex industry to an understanding of their value, beauty, and destiny in Jesus Christ," according to its website.

The nonprofit did not immediately answer a phone message requesting comment Monday.

Florida last year had the third-most calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Human trafficking is a particular concern for Tampa as the city prepares to host Super Bowl LV in 2021. The FBI netted 169 arrests in a sex trafficking sting around Atlanta during Super Bowl LIII. Of those arrests, 26 were sex traffickers.

In February, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce organized a summit to enlist local businesses in the fight against sex trafficking and labor trafficking.

Contact Sam Ogozalek at sogozalek@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3430. Follow @SamOgozalek.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Traffic backing up on southbound Interstate 275 on the Howard Frankland Bridge Thursday evening after the Florida Highway Patrol said a fatal crash took place hours earlier. [Florida Department of Transportation]
    The collision of two pickup trucks left traffic snarled for hours. Motorists should find another way into Pinellas County.
  2. WESH 2 News shared aerial video of a crew cleaning up the grapefruit spill on the Florida Turnpike Wednesday. [Screenshot]
    Loose fruit created a traffic squeeze that was not appealing.
  3. A rendering of what Clearwater's downtown waterfront will look like once Imagine Clearwater's plans come to fruition. The mock-up is oriented so the top is the western waterfront and the bottom is the the eastern waterfront. In the southwest, a lake is planned underneath the Memorial Causeway. A shaded bluff walk will run along the waterfront's eastern edge, and in the middle of the complex, Clearwater plans a 4,000-seat covered concert venue. To the north, what is now Coachman Park will be re-imagined as a new garden. [Stantec via the City of Clearwater]
    Here’s one thing: People are worried about parking.
  4. Rodney Davis, 56, shown in video released from the Polk County Sheriff's Office of Operation Santa's Naughty List. Davis, a Disney World security guard, is accused of soliciting prostitution. [Polk County Sheriff's Office]
    His arrest was one of 124 in Operation Santa’s Naughty List, a prostitution and human trafficking sting from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
  5. St. Petersburg police are asking for the public's help in identifying a suspect in the Monday morning shooting death of a 24-year-old man. [St. Petersburg Police Department]
    Police are hoping someone will recognize the man seen walking near the scene of the shooting.
  6. Largo police said Denus Vondell Harris Jr. attacked a woman at a massage business, where he sexually battered her and imprisoned her for nearly an hour. The photo on the left his from surveillance video at the business; the photo on the right is Harris' booking photo. [Pinellas County Jail]
    The woman was able to escape after about 50 minutes. Police reviewed video surveillance they say corroborates her account.
  7. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. [Tampa Bay Times]
    Another driver was taken to the hospital with serious injuries.
  8. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman center, held a news conference at the Manhattan Casino on Tuesday where he announced a new vision for the 22nd Street S corridor called Deuces Rising. The plan includes building a new Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum at Commerce Park. CIty Council member Darden Rice, is to the mayor's left and Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin is on the right. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The proposal to build warehouses on Commerce Park along 22nd Street S fell apart. Now the city wants to move the African American museum there.
  9. Javarick Henderson, 13, in green, is led into court for his first appearance Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019 in Clearwater. Henderson is accused of stabbing his grandmother to death in her home, police said, while another grandchild slept in a nearby room. [CHRIS URSO  |  Times]
    “It’s one of the most gruesome crime scenes that I’ve experienced in a long time,” said a top prosecutor.
  10. DIRK SHADD   |   Times
The closed sign hangs on the entrance of the tract at Oldsmar BMX, 3120 Tampa Road, in Oldsmar on Friday, May 3, 2019. The world famous BMX track in Oldsmar shut down suddenly earlier this year. The city cited safety concerns after a routine building inspection, and a subsequent report confirmed that serious structural issues in the track's walls exist. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The track remains closed indefinitely.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement