18 People Arrested in Underage Sex Trafficking Case After 3-Month Investigation

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A three-month undercover investigation in Florida has led to the arrest of 18 people in connection with an underage sex trafficking ring, authorities said.

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Florida said one victim is safe and another one has been rescued after the investigation into the solicitation of minors that authorities labeled “Operation Wanderlust.”

For the operation, detectives went undercover, pretending to be minors, and numerous suspects from the Tampa area unknowingly came to meet the detectives, according to a news release.

“During the online discussions, the suspects solicited sexual acts from detectives posing as teens, sent inappropriate pictures, and agreed to drive to Hillsborough County in order to meet their potential victims for sex,” the news release said.

Now, those arrested are facing numerous charges including: unlawful use of a two-way communications device, use of computer services or devices to solicit certain illegal acts, traveling to meet a minor after using computer services/devices to solicit certain illegal acts, attempted lewd or lascivious battery, and numerous others.

Among those arrested was an elementary school principal, and another suspect who was arrested twice during the operation, which means he faces an additional 18 counts, according to police.

The two victims rescued were 15 years old, one of whom was being taken advantage of by a 41-year-old man, and the other being groomed for “rape (BDSM) fantasies,” according to HCSO.