Sunshine State authorities busted a massive child sex trafficking network — accused of exploiting a single teen — this week, ending a two-year probe that netted 178 arrests, including a high-profile booster for Florida State University, according to a report and police.
The operation, called “Stolen Innocence,” which began in November 2018, wrapped up on Tuesday — and those allegedly involved face charges ranging from solicitation of prostitution to human trafficking of a minor, the Tallahassee Police Department said in a press release.
It began when department investigators spotted images of a child posted on a website that advertises sex for money, authorities said. The girl was 13 and 14 when most of the alleged offenses occurred — but the abuse may have begun even before her 13th birthday, Elizabeth Bascom, one of the lead investigators, told The Tallahassee Democrat.
A total of 72 suspects were charged with misdemeanors and notices to appear, and 106 people were hit with felony charges — 18 of those being charged federally, according to authorities.
Those swept up in the investigation include a former chairman of the Seminole Boosters, Inc., a fundraising arm for Florida State University Athletics, a former write-in candidate for local office, and a physical education teacher, according to the Democrat.
Several women were also allegedly involved, charged with helping to arrange paid “plays” with the teen in exchange for cash, according to the report.
The teen was rescued by the police department’s Special Victims Unit, and cooperated in efforts to bring charges against those who allegedly exploited her, the outlet reported.
She is “on the road to recovery, and she’s doing well given the situation,” Elizabeth Bascom, one of the lead investigators, told the local paper.
“She does have things to say,” Bascom said. “She was able to say that this has seriously impacted her life, and it is very difficult at times. But she is working to get her life back.”
A number of defendants claimed in sworn interviews that the girl’s mother wouldn’t allow anyone to have sex with her teenage daughter unless they came with drugs or money, according to police reports obtained by the Democrat.
A police spokeswoman could not confirm to the Post Wednesday whether the teen’s mother was involved in the network in any capacity.
Some of the defendants described the encounters taking place inside a filthy apartment, as well as various hotels and motels, according to the report.
Social media, including Facebook, as well as apps and text messages, were used to arrange the meetings — creating a long trail of electronic evidence, the outlet reported.
Federal authorities were also involved in the investigation.
“[Our investigators] worked tirelessly to bring justice to the victim in this case and were able to make an unprecedented number of human trafficking related arrests,” Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell said in a statement. “I could not be prouder of the steadfast efforts of our investigators and the joint effort with our partners to stop the illegal and dehumanizing practice of human trafficking.”