Democrats ask DeSantis to return money from billionaire charged in prostitution sting

Billionaire equity firm owner John Childs gave his campaign for governor $600,000.
OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times 
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a stop at Armwood High School Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 in Tampa.
OCTAVIO JONES | Times Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a stop at Armwood High School Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 in Tampa.
Published Feb. 26, 2019|Updated Feb. 26, 2019

The Florida Democratic Party is calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to return $600,000 in campaign donations he received from billionaire John Childs, who is accused of soliciting prostitution at a Florida spa linked to a human trafficking ring.

Party Chair Terrie Rizzo said DeSantis should donate it “to one of the many organizations fighting human trafficking in the state of Florida.”

“The governor of our state isn’t just a politician — he sets a moral example for all of us to follow,” Rizzo said in a statement. "Governor DeSantis needs to send an unequivocal message that the horror of human trafficking will not be tolerated in our state — and that those who commit these crimes will be brought to justice.”

When asked by a reporter this afternoon whether he would return the money, DeSantis said flatly, “No.”

Childs, who owns an equity firm, joined New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft as one of several prominent figures accused by police of paying for sexual favors at day spas in the Treasure Coast and Palm Beach County.

Authorities say the businesses had ties to international human trafficking rings, although no one has been charged with human trafficking.

Childs told Bloomberg that “the accusation of solicitation of prostitution is totally false,” and said that he’s hired a lawyer.

DeSantis is hardly the only candidate that Childs has backed. As noted by TCPalm, the billionaire has given millions to many top Republicans, including $250,000 to a pro-Donald Trump super PAC in the last election cycle. Childs also gave $25,000 to former Gov. Rick Scott’s recount effort in November, records show.

In a statement, Republican Party of Florida of Florida spokeswoman Sarah Bascom accused her Democratic counterparts of “playing politics and attempting to turn this very serious issue into a political football.”

During a press conference this morning, DeSantis called Florida “ground zero” for human trafficking. He was not asked about the donations from Childs.

“I don’t know beyond what you guys know in terms of what’s been reported on the particular thing (in Jupiter) but I think we all know that Florida has been, in some ways, ground zero for human trafficking and so I’m supportive of our attorney general’s efforts," he said. "I’m certainly open to looking at legislation that will be able to address it. I think it’s something we worked on when I was in the Congress but look, it’s a problem in Florida and I don’t think there’s any two ways about it.”

Times staff writers Emily L. Mahoney and Jack Evans contributed to this report.