By Cpl. Jack Nash
OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee County Detectives participate in undercover human trafficking investigation "Operation Traffic Stop" resulting in 213 arrests by Polk County Sheriff's Office.
During a seven-day undercover human trafficking operation, “Operation Traffic Stop,” which began on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Vice Unit arrested 213 suspects. Detectives from the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office, Auburndale PD, Winter Haven PD, Haines City PD, Lake Wales PD, Lakeland PD, Davenport PD, and Bartow PD, as well as from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, assisted with the investigation. The Office of the State Attorney 10th Judicial Circuit, State Attorney Brian Haas, members from the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), and social services organizations One More Child; Heartland for Children; My Name My Voice; Selah Freedom; and the Children’s Home Society Child Advocacy Center, were also on-hand.
Those who travelled to provide prostitution services were screened by detectives and the social services organizations to determine if they were being trafficked or exploited by others, and were offered services by the social services organizations at the operation. During this investigation, 24 possible human trafficking victims were identified of the 111 prostitutes who were arrested.
In total, 89 suspects were arrested and charged with soliciting a prostitute and traveling to the undercover location to negotiate having sex in exchange for money. Thirteen other suspects were arrested, and of those, 10 were either deriving proceeds from prostitution or aiding and abetting prostitutes.
“Not only did we arrest more suspects during this single operation than we have ever arrested before, we identified 24 human trafficking victims – the highest number of victims we’ve ever rescued during one of these investigations. The valuable relationships that we have with the social services organizations who join us in these operations make it possible for these women to get help and be emancipated from this way of life,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
Some interesting notes from the operation:
• Five suspects were previously arrested by PCSO during a similar undercover operation, and two of those were just arrested during the September 2022 “Operation Fall Haul II.”
• Fourteen of the arrested are suspected of being in the country illegally (13 from Cuba and one from Mexico), and six of the 14 were identified as victims of human trafficking.
• Thirty-five suspects told detectives they are married.
• Detectives charged those arrested with a total of 68 felonies and 308 misdemeanors.
• Several of the suspects have criminal histories, including violent felonies such as kidnapping, robbery, aggravated assault, and sex offenses.
• Twenty-two suspects told detectives they receive government assistance.
• Detectives seized fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana, from those arrested during the operation.
• Two of the suspects brought firearms to the undercover location – Rydreka Harris and Horace Levatte.
• The oldest person arrested is 68 years old (Dellbert Dinsmore), while the youngest is 19 years old (Jamal Spike).