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  • Sex trafficking ring of 178 people are arrested in Florida for trafficking ONE teenage girl who was 13 when the abuse began.


    The probe exposed a massive sex trafficking ring centered on one teenage girl. Officials say the victim was 13 and 14 when most of alleged offenses occurred.

     
    The victim is on the road to recovery and wants to testify in court.


    Nearly 200 people have been arrested in a shocking child sex trafficking case centered on one teenage girl whose own mother allegedly sold her for sex or drugs in Florida.


    The Tallahassee Police Department announced Tuesday a total of 178 arrests as the result of a two-year investigation known as Operation Stolen Innocence that was first launched in November 2018.
    Overall 106 people face felony charges including human trafficking and lewd and lascivious battery on a child under 16, and 18 of those are being charged federally. Meanwhile, 72 face misdemeanor charges, including solicitation of prostitution, and notices to appear.


    Some of the people linked to the case include a grade school physical education teacher and a high-profile booster for Florida State University, as per the Tallahassee Democrat.
    The probe began when police learned that images of a child were posted online on a website known for advertising prostitution.


    'The sheer number. The all-day, everyday, all-the-time solicitation and sexual activity and talk about cash for money and clearly meeting. I had never seen something just that prolific,' Tallahassee Police Department Investigator Elizabeth Bascom, who first uncovered the victim being sold online, said.
    'When you can go online and order a pizza and a girl at the same time, and the girl shows up to your door before the pizza, our society is in trouble. OK, that’s where we are. It is unbelievably accessible,' she said, calling the abuse 'horrific'.


    Police haven’t said if the victim’s mother was involved or charged in the sex trafficking ring but defendants told investigators during interviews that the girl’s mother wouldn’t allow anyone to have sex with her unless they brought money or drugs, as per police reports.


    Some defendants said the encounters took place in a filthy apartment or in hotels and motels across town. Several women were also charged in the case for arranging paid 'plays' with the girl in exchange for cash.


    Doug Russell, the former chairman of the Seminole Boosters Inc, which is the fundraising arm for Florida State University Athletics, is linked to the case. He was arrested in September 2019 and charged with solicitation of prostitution. According to the report he responded to an ad for sex and was told a price, but it's not clear if he ever went through with the visit. His attorney said he pleaded not guilty to the charge.


    Some of the people linked to the case include Jermaine Miller, who was an official write-in candidate for the Tallahassee City Commission.


    Gym teacher Brian Winsett, 51, who taught at Woodville PK-8 School, was also arrested in July for sex crimes with a 13-year-old girl.


    In an interview with police Winsett admitted to having sex with the girl and traveling to a residence to meet her. Investigators also found texts on his cellphone about prices and potential meeting locations.
    'She does have things to say. She was able to say this has seriously impacted her life, and it is very difficult at times. But she is working to get her life back,' Bascom said.


    'The arrests in this operation are the culmination of the diligent work from our dedicated investigators, who have worked tirelessly to bring justice to the victims in this case,' Tallahassee police chief Lawrence Revell said Tuesday.


    'I cannot say enough about the work that you all did and how proud I am of each of you,' he added.
    Under Florida law, a person commits lewd and lascivious battery by engaging in sexual activity with a victim 12 to 16 or by encouraging or forcing someone under 16 to engage in sex. Ignorance of the victim's age is not a defense under the statutes.


    The investigation was aided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the State Attorney’s Office and the Leon County Sheriff’s Office.


    State Attorney’s Office Felony Chief Lorena Vollrath-Bueno said approximately 50,000 people are trafficked in the US each year and the human trafficking industry is worth roughly $150billion worldwide.


    Investigators urge victims of sex trafficking and people who are aware of victims to speak out. People can report information to the Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 1-888-373-7888.