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Florida sheriff blasts border policies after 21 charged in sex trafficking ring

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(The Center Square) – An undercover human trafficking operation in Florida found that 21 illegal foreign nationals were using papers given to them by the Department of Homeland Security to fly to major cities in the United States for free to engage in sex trafficking, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

“Federal policy drives illegal immigrant crime and victimization,” Judd said when announcing the results of a multi-agency undercover operation that led to the arrest of 228 people. Among them, 21 people arrested were in the country illegally, citizens of Chile, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.

The operation took place from Feb. 22 to March 1. Arrests were made on charges related to soliciting prostitutes, offering to commit prostitution, or aiding and abetting prostitutes. Charges included 70 felonies and 288 misdemeanors. The suspects’ combined criminal histories totaled 879 felonies and 1,150 misdemeanors, according to the sheriff’s office.

“This is a new record number of arrests during an investigation of this kind,” Judd said. “These people are criminals in their own right.”

Among the 21 illegal foreign nationals arrested, three women were from Venezuela. Their driver, a criminal alien, drove them to central Florida from New York City, Judd said. “These ladies are all controlled by a human trafficker” who is believed to be a woman to whom they owe $3,000 a week.

Judd described what they learned in the course of their investigation, saying, “You decide who you want to believe … these victims of human trafficking or the whitewash the federal authorities give you. They said that when they came into the country illegally, DHS gave them a form, an ID, and paperwork that allows them to fly for free. They told us that they fly to major metro centers for free on the federal government, where they set up their appointments for sex all around the country. Did you hear what I said?”

Sheriff Grady Judd @PolkCoSheriff discussing the details of 21 illegal aliens apprehended in a human trafficking sting. They are flying around the country for free, using federal papers from DHS, his investigators found, to commit crimes. They got caught in Polk County. pic.twitter.com/xie1HcSrYW— Bethany Blankley (@BethanyBlankley) March 7, 2024

He explained how the human trafficker “sets up the deal” and instructs the illegal foreign nationals to show their DHS ID to board planes and “they fly for free down here then they fly back. We heard a similar theme from all 21 of these folks: ‘we can’t work legally. We’re addicted to this cash. It’s a lot of cash and it’s quick so we have to give $3,000 a week we get to keep everything above that.’”

Judd said the border crisis has a direct impact on crime in the U.S. “We have a crisis at the border. Because of the crisis at the border we have people that are victimizing illegal folks, forcing them into the sex trade because we allow these criminals in the country illegally.”

He also said politicians in Washington, D.C. “want to politic everything,” saying, “oh, we had a good piece of legislation that limited the average to only 5,000 illegals a day in the country,” referring to a bill negotiated by U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma and Democrats. The claim directly contradicts the bill language, which includes so many exceptions that the 5,000 a day limit isn’t a limit at all, The Center Square has reported.

Judd said if the federal government “can shut it off at 5,000 people illegally coming in this country a day, you can shut it off at no people illegally coming in this country a day. But the politicians are politicking while the victims are being victimized.”

Crime committed by illegal border crossers “doesn’t make any difference on the national level … because they sit up there behind their gated communities” and “Congress plays politics back and forth between the two parties.”

He said border related crime is “a mess and it doesn’t have to be. If we can deal with it and catch it on the local level, they can stop it on the federal level. Shame on all of every one of them for not getting together and saying, ‘you know there are things bigger in this country than my individual politics.’”

Detectives from seven police departments, a fire and rescue team, members of State Attorney Brian Haas’s office, the Florida Department of Children and Families, and staff from several social services organizations were involved in the multi-agency operation led by Judd’s office.

In this operation, the multi-agency effort identified 13 human trafficking victims. During two previous similar operations in February and October 2023, they identified 24 and 21 victims, respectively. In one year, they’ve identified 58 potential victims of human trafficking.

Many who were arrested brought fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, MDMA, hydrocodone, Xanax, methamphetamine, and marijuana to the location where they were arrested; 17 firearms were also seized.

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