Operation 'Stolen Innocence' nets 170 arrests related to human trafficking of minors in Florida
Operation ‘Stolen Innocence’ nets 170 arrests related to human trafficking of minors in Florida
Image credit: Tallahassee Police Department.

Howard Cohen

The Miami Herald

Nov. 18—Tallahassee police wrapped up as two-year, large-scale human trafficking investigation Tuesday by announcing the arrest of more than 170 people on charges that include solicitation of prostitution and human trafficking of a minor.

The investigation — dubbed “Stolen Innocence” — began in November 2018 after city police detectives saw images of a child posted on a website that advertises sex for money. The department’s Special Victims Unit set up an operation to rescue the young girl, which proved pivotal in the “Stolen Innocence” operation, police said on Tuesday.

“This investigation is a testament to how diligent our investigators work to enhance the quality of life for everyone in this community, especially our vulnerable population. They worked tirelessly to bring justice to the victim in this case and were able to make an unprecedented number of human trafficking related arrests,” Chief Lawrence Revell said in a statement.

He called human trafficking “dehumanizing.”

The investigators were joined by members of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Homeland Security, U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Florida, the State Attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit, U.S. Marshals Service and the Leon County Sheriff’s Office.

The investigators uncovered “an enormous amount of electronic evidence,” according to Tallahassee police. Poring through the evidence took months.

According to the department, 18 people in the state capital face federal charges, 106 were charged with felonies and 72 suspects were charged with misdemeanors.

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, about 199,000 incidents of human trafficking occur annually in the United States, with Florida ranking third in the number of reported cases behind California and Texas, according to the Florida Department of Health.

The hotline’s figures found that 896 cases were reported in Florida in 2019, a rise from 760 in 2018 and 622 in 2017.

“It is difficult to comprehend the depravity of these criminals who prey on the most innocent in our society,” said Homeland Security Investigations’ Special Agent Kevin Sibley who aided in the “Stolen Innocence” investigation.

Human trafficking is widespread and its perpetrators are often opportunistic.

For instance, in February, 22 women trapped in human-trafficking operations were rescued during a Super Bowl crackdown on the crime, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said. The eyes of the world were on South Florida for the football game at Miami Gardens’ Hard Rock Stadium on Feb. 2, 2020.

What to look for to help spot a potential human trafficking victim

Tallahassee’s police department said there are some common characteristics found among potential victims, who are often minors.

— The person appears malnourished.

— Show signs of physical injuries or abuse.

— Avoids eye contact, social interaction and law enforcement.

— Lacks official identification or personal possessions.

— They are never away from people.

How to report crimes

If you want to report crimes like human trafficking or any crime, police advise you call their departments — in Tallahassee that would be 850-891-4200 — or do so anonymously via Crime Stoppers in your county online or by phone.

In Tallahassee, Crime Stoppers would be 850-891-TIPS (8477). In Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys call 305-471-TIPS. And in Broward call 954-493-TIPS.

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