POLK COUNTY, FL (WCMH/WFLA) – It might be March Madness, but some unsuspecting criminals got wrapped up in “March Sadness” during a prostitution sting in Florida.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday announced the results of a major prostitution bust, resulting in the take down of more than a hundred suspects.
“Operation March Sadness,” a six-day-long undercover investigation at the PCSO Sheriff’s Operations Center in Winter Haven, focused on those who advertise prostitution services in online ads and identifying victims of human trafficking. PCSO undercover detectives, working with the Office of the State Attorney, arrested a total of 104 suspects.
“This is not a star basketball team. These are losers, and they all fouled out,” said Sheriff Grady Judd. “If you come to Polk County & violate the law, you can guarantee you’re going to jail.”
Among those arrested was Dirk Watson, 32. Deputies say he’s an active-duty Captain in the US Air Force with high security clearance. He’s also a coach for his son’s little league baseball team. Officers say he left his wife and two children at Disney World so he could go meet up with what he thought was a 14-year-old girl to engage in sexual activity.
Also among those arrested is Kevin Robinson, 42, who is a Reserve Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy stationed in Norfolk, Virginia and John Hamilton, 51, a retired Major in the US Air Force.
Of the 104 suspects arrested:
- 38 were prostitutes
- 51 were “Johns,” or those who solicited to pay for prostitution
- 14 others were arrested for related charges, such as deriving proceeds from prostitution
- 1 was arrested for traveling to meet a minor
- 1 told detectives he was in the US seeking political asylum
- 23 told detectives they were married
- Several suspects left their young children home alone or in a car alone
Detectives also seized two firearms and drugs including marijuana, Oxycodone, heroin and cocaine
Many of the prostitutes traveled to Florida, and told detectives they travel across the country to have sex for money.
“We suspect that some of the people who arrived at our undercover location are victims of human trafficking. We are proud of our partnership with The Porch Light Organization, who continue to work with us during investigations like this one, to help provide much needed resources to human trafficking victims,” said Sheriff Judd.
The suspects ranged in age from 20 to 63 years old. In all, detectives filed 37 felony charges and 128 misdemeanor charges against the 104 suspects. Among the 104 suspects, there was a total of 191 previous felonies and 288 previous misdemeanor charges in their criminal histories.