98 arrested in Polk County prostitution operation

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POLK COUNTY, Fla. —

A four-day undercover prostitution operation landed 98 people in jail, including a former Orlando police officer.

Those arrested face a variety of charges, according to Polk County sheriff's investigators.

Investigators said the operation, dubbed When Will You Learn, resulted in deputies identifying three potential cases of human trafficking.

“They don’t have a choice, they’re given drugs, they’re watched, they’re held against their will, they’re psychologically abused," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

Judd said one of the girls caught in the operation is 15 years old. He said she ran away from her home in Miami only to find herself driven to central Florida to be used as a prostitute. 

"I’m way over people telling us, ‘Oh, it’s just consenting sex with two adults for money.' You need to wake up. There are a lot of problems associated with that statement,” said Judd.

Judd said demand in Orlando is driving the prostitution market.

“We had one prostitute tells us that, 'Hey, the pimps wear us out in Orlando,'" said Judd.

Judd said some of the women arrested told investigators they want to stop working as prostitutes, but continue to work out of fear of being hurt or killed.

Judd said that recently a prostitute told investigators, "I had one of them tell me, 'If you don’t come work for me, I’m going to throw acid in your face and burn you up.'”

According to investigators, charges included offering to commit lewdness, aiding and abetting prostitution, deriving proceeds from prostitution, possession of illegal drugs, child abuse, felony battering, resisting, violation of probation and traffic offenses.

Investigators said 53 of those arrested were attempting to pay for sex from prostitutes, while 16 were arrested when they brought prostitutes to the undercover location.

Deputies said they arrested 28 suspected prostitutes in the operation.

Channel 9's Deneige Broom is covering this story and will have more details on Eyewitness News at 4.