Top human trafficking investigator reassigned after parking tickets

ORLANDO, Fla. — One of Central Florida’s top human trafficking investigators was just taken out of his role and reassigned to courthouse security, and 9 Investigates learned it’s all due to some parking tickets.

Investigative Reporter was contacted by advocates who questioned whether the punishment fits the offense, and learned their concern is the active cases this move now puts at risk.

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During the Greater Orlando Human Trafficking Awareness Day awards presentation in January, then-detective Maurice Edwards was the one getting kudos from his boss, Sheriff Dennis Lemma, even though Lemma was the one being presented an award.

“I appreciate you,” Lemma said to Edwards. “I will tell you, we are so proud of you… it is a calling for you, I am absolutely convinced the passion and the drive and the ability to make men and women you come in contact with want to be better people is contagious, and that’s the momentum that’s going on, and you’re going to have a very bright future.”

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But a boot placed on Edwards’ work vehicle during that two-day event sparked an internal investigation that would have Lemma threatening to fire Edwards. The 130+ page investigation shows Edwards racked up seven parking tickets in Orlando since February 2020, ranging from meter violations, to misuse of the freight zone, before finally being “booted” in late January of this year while parked near UCF’s downtown campus for the Awareness Day event.

Investigators noted that “the removal of the immobilization device came after you placed a phone call to the parking division and advised them it was a law enforcement vehicle. At no time did you ever pay the citations nor make a phone call regarding the citations until after the immobilization device was placed on the vehicle. The citations totaled $409 owed to the city of Orlando.”

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Beyond the parking tickets, the internal affairs investigation called into question Edwards’ use of his company vehicle to travel outside of Seminole County, and determined that Edwards made false statements while drafting a letter, stating those parking tickets were received while he was conducting work business.

Edwards explained that he did not intend for the draft to be sent as-is to Orlando parking enforcement.

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In reality, some of those tickets were given while he was smoking cigars at the Corona Bar in downtown Orlando. Edwards explained to internal affairs that he was under the interpretation that he was always working due to the position he held, but the Sheriff didn’t agree.

A Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said it was dishonesty that led to Edwards being labeled a ‘Brady’ cop - meaning, his discipline record will have to be disclosed in any criminal case he’s a part of. Court filings show that requirement is already threatening some cases, including the prosecution of 40-year-old Desha Turner, who has been sitting in the Seminole County jail for seven months, awaiting trial on accusations he sold a 14-year-old for sex. That charge carries a life sentence, but Turner’s defense attorney could use Edwards’ tickets to discredit him.

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When asked if, in hindsight, he should have just paid for the parking citations, Edwards replied, “Oh my God, yes. I shoulda just paid for the parking tickets.”

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Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.