The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) announced the arrest of 104 people during Operation Trade Secrets II, 76 of them were men purchasing sex and only 28 were women who engaged in the sex trade. 

The operation was focused on the “johns”, or buyers.

Image/HCSO

Like any business, the human trafficking industry boils down to this: Supply and Demand. I strongly believe that in order to eradicate human trafficking, we must continue to focus on reducing the demand,” said Sheriff Chronister. “People who profit from trafficking women and children, along with those who pay to engage in this awful trade, must always be held accountable.”

Detectives with the HCSO Special Investigations Division focused their investigation on websites and forums known for soliciting sex in addition to strip clubs, massage parlors and motels throughout Hillsborough County. Undercover operations were conducted, putting female detectives on the streets posing as prostitutes and male detectives posing as Johns.

Sheriff Chronister highlighted a number of cases on Monday including two performed in coordination with Homeland Security Investigations. On June 21, Jason Fitzgerald, 36, and Luis Colon, 29, each met individually with an undercover detective who posed as the stepfather of a 14-year-old girl. They believed the undercover detective was selling his daughter for sex and arranged a time to meet up with the teenaged girl.

“Fitzgerald and Colon showed up at a trailer park in North Tampa. They began negotiating a price for sex with the child, and when they were told they could take their pick, having sex with a 14-year-old girl or a 13-year-old girl inside one of the trailers, they jumped at the chance to be with the even younger girl,” explained Sheriff Chronister. “Predators like this do not belong on the streets of Hillsborough County.”

Both Fitzgerald and Colon were arrested and charged with human trafficking for commercial sexual activity, traveling to meet a minor to solicit certain illegal acts and unlawful use of a two-way communications device.Each woman taken into custody during the human trafficking investigation is first debriefed by detectives in order to learn if they are being trafficked. Support services are made available through local organizations like the Salvation Army, Bridging Freedom and Created Tampa.

Sheriff Chronister also put a spotlight on the arrest of 29-year-old Steven Cook. On July 30, an undercover detective encountered him when Cook brought two women to a hotel and organized a sex exchange prior to arrival. One of the women later revealed that she told Cook she was in pain from a medical-related issue, but he forced her to meet up and have sex with men anyway. Cook, who is also a Latin King Gang Member, was charged with human trafficking and deriving proceeds of prostitution, among other charges.

“As we get closer to major events coming to Tampa next year, like the Super Bowl, WrestleMania or even the Final Four, we want to make it clear that human trafficking will not be tolerated in Hillsborough County,” said Sheriff Chronister. “There will always be demand for human trafficking unless people learn that purchasing another human being for sex is wrong, is never consensual and is a sure-fire way to land yourself in jail in this county.”