FBI involved in Marion County human trafficking bust

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MARION COUNTY, Fla. - Marion County authorities said they arrested two women on charges of human trafficking.

Investigators said Melissa Rodriguez, 41, and Ysbette Joseph, 31, agreed to sell at least three young women between the ages of 17 and 23.

With the help of the FBI, the women were taken-down during an undercover operation that spanned several counties.

Ocala police said Rodriguez cooked up the scheme to sell the young women into slavery, but she said police have it all wrong.

"(I was) pretty surprised," said Rodriguez. "I didn't traffic in any humans."

But police and the FBI said Rodriguez and Joseph were involved in human trafficking. Authorities said confidential source working undercover met with the suspects at several locations around town, including a bar, a Denny's and the parking lot of a local fast-food restaurant, to make the deal. 

Authorities said a $1,500 down payment was paid to Rodriguez in cash to by undercover officials during the investigation.

Rodriguez admitted' she took the $1,500 but claims she thought it was just a loan. She insists she wasn't involved in selling young girls and said she even has children herself.

"I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time," she said. "Only regrets I have is I'm dealing with the wrong people."

Police said no victims were ever turned over to the undercover buyer.  

Rodriguez and Joseph were arrested and booked into the Marion County Jail.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center ranked Florida near the top in the number of calls to its hotline.