A Florida pastor who launched a new church this fall and a teacher were among 125 people arrested in a 20-day human trafficking sting that resulted in the rescue of four women and a 17-year-old, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday.
“Individuals who make a conscious choice and effort to take advantage of others through human trafficking have no room in Hillsborough County,” Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister declared during a press conference on the arrests.
“Our approach and efforts year-round are proactive and relentless. Our strong team of detectives will continue to work tirelessly to takedown and put a stop to human trafficking.”
Chronister said during the sting operation dubbed “Operation Round-Up” that started on Aug. 4 and ended Oct. 13, undercover detectives targeted criminals who attempted to prey upon minors, sought sex for themselves or exploited victims through human trafficking.
Among those arrested are Joel Velasco, 38, a teacher at an unspecified Hillsborough school and Pastor Samuel Phillips Jr., 44, who recently launched Be Limitless Church in Riverview.
“Throughout this operation our detectives created undercover profiles online and chatted with men who believed they were speaking to minors, created false advertisements for sex, and undercover female detectives posed as streetwalkers,” Chronister said.
Chronister said Velasco offered to pay undercover detectives $60 in exchange for sex while Phillips “responded to a false ad placed on an escort website and offered to pay our undercover detective for sex.”
“These men who were all held to a standard of trust and respect were all arrested for soliciting another to commit prostitution,” Chronister said.