The Polk County Sheriff’s Office investigation led to 92 prostitution-related arrests. (Photo courtesy of NBC 6)
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WTSP) -- A four day long undercover operation in Polk County landed 92 people behind bars.
Sheriff Grady Judd said 12 of the suspects were arrested as johns, 39 suspects as pimps, and 39 suspects as prostitutes, plus two individuals for tagging along. Those arrested come from as far away as California and New York, and throughout Florida.
Judd said, "This is a 4-day snap shot, one operation in one county. Think about this across the state, across the nation. It's scary."
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said of the 92 arrests for solicitation, there were highlights, and 45-year-old Samuel Yoon tops the list. Judd said the youth minister from California thought he was going to have sex with a 14-year-old girl and when he arrived at the hotel room. Judd said, "This guy is a pedophile. This guy is dangerous."
Judd also pointed to 48-year-old Stephen Sheridan from Altamonte Springs. Sheridan was reportedly celebrating his divorce with not one, but two prostitutes, who were really deputies. It was a celebration cut short.
Then there's the newlywed, 21-year-old Muhammad Almed. Judd said, "He was in Orlando on his honeymoon. Can you believe that?"
Judd said Almed is one of two men whose wives reported them missing, only to find them in jail. The sheriff said 10 men admitted to being married.
Judd also said some of the arrested are living off taxpayer dollars. He said, "Nineteen of the 92 received federal assistance, Medicaid, unemployment, and EBT cards for food stamps."
Rachel Wright, 26, from Orlando was one of the people arrested while on federal assistance. Judd said she had $1,300 on her at the time of her arrest. According to Judd, Wright even brought her younger brother along to babysit her 2-year-old child. Judd said, "Hardworking men and women are paying for her to prostitute. That drives me out of my mind."
Judd said many of these people will bond out again. His message is clear. "If you come here, violate the law, we will put you in jail. If we don't get you this time, we will get you next time."
Sheriff Judd said most of the 92 people arrested connected online through an advertising website called Backpage.com.
Judd said, "Backpage is driving proceeds from prostitution. Back Page is facilitating prostitution."
He said johns, pimps, and prostitutes hook up under the adult section using their own code words. "They are good at saying, '200 roses for an hour.' Let me figure this out. Is that red roses or yellow roses? I guess that depends if you are in love or in heat."
According to Judd, Backpage makes money depending on subject and ad placement. He said the higher the ad appears on the page, the more money the ad costs, and they charge more for adult entertainment.
"It's abundantly clear to us Backpage is facilitating organized prostitution and facilitating human trafficking."
Judd said he's putting Backpage officially on notice. "It's a promise. Backpage, you are going to be criminally investigated. So are the people in charge of your organization."