TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A large-scale human trafficking investigation conducted over two years in north Florida resulted in 178 arrests, police said Tuesday.
Tallahassee police Chief Lawrence Revell, along with state and federal officials, announced the results of Operation Stolen Innocence during a news conference.
The investigation began in November 2018 when Tallahassee Police Department investigators saw that images of a child were being posted on a website that advertises sex for money, according to a news release.
The girl was 13 and 14 when the alleged offenses occurred, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
“We know it’s going on in our community,” Revell told reporters. “We need to address this and we know it takes state and federal partners.”
The investigation uncovered an “enormous amount of electronic evidence" that required months to evaluate, Revell said. As a result, 72 people were charged with misdemeanors and notices to appear, 106 suspects were charged with felonies and 18 face federal charges, according to the news release.
The felony charges include the production of child pornography, human sex trafficking of a minor, online solicitation of prostitution and other charges connected to the human trafficking of children, WCTV reported.
“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,” Revell said in a statement. “I could not be prouder of the steadfast efforts of our investigators and the joint effort with our partners to stop the illegal and dehumanizing practice of human trafficking.”
People arrested in the investigation include a former write-in candidate for a local office, a physical education teacher and a former chairman of Seminole Boosters, Inc., the Democrat reported.
Several of the defendants are women, charged with helping arrange paid “plays” with the girl in exchange for cash, the newspaper reported.
“I know it’s hard to believe that something like this happens here in our community,” Lorena Vollrath-Bueno, felony chief for the State Attorney’s Office, told the Democrat. “But it does.”