Over six days, undercover detectives in the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Vice Unit conducted a special investigation known as “Operation Santa’s Naughty List,” with the intent of identifying and helping victims of human trafficking who might be forced into prostitution.
Assisting PCSO in the operation which began on Tuesday, December 3, 2019, were officers from police departments serving Lakeland, Haines City, Winter Haven, Bartow, and Auburndale.
The operation utilized internet advertisements to arrange the meetings between undercover detectives and suspects, which took place at an undercover location in Polk County.
“The primary purpose for these operations is to identify victims of human trafficking and those who prey on the victims, as well as the deviant child predators who stalk children online.” -Grady Judd, Sheriff.
There were seven women who came to the undercover location to commit prostitution, but may be victims of human trafficking. Two of those women were taken to shelters and introduced to anti-trafficking organizations for assistance and support. The organizations who were assisting with potential victims were Selah Freedom, One More Child, Heartland for Children, and National Children’s Advocacy Center.
Each person who was arrested for prostitution was given immediate access to the members of the anti-trafficking organizations and offered assistance.
Five men were arrested for travelling to the operation with the intent to sexually harm a child. Two other suspects did not travel to the operation but solicited who they thought were children online – detectives obtained warrants for their arrest and they were located and arrested.
There were 53 people arrested for prostitution (a second degree misdemeanor) and 46 were arrested who were seeking the services of a prostitute (a first degree misdemeanor).
18 people were arrested for various other charges, primarily aiding/transporting/deriving proceeds from prostitution.
Some interesting notes from the operation:
• 30 of those arrested told detectives that they were married. One man said he was engaged to be married.
• Detectives charged those arrested with a total of 78 felonies and 148 misdemeanors.
• Criminal histories of everyone arrested included 443 previous felonies and 571 previous misdemeanors. Some of the prior histories include charges for kidnapping, robbery, aggravated battery, ad sex offenses.
• 7 of the arrested were from other states (Hartsfield, SC; Williamsburg, MO; Conyers, GA; Victoria, TX; Easton, PA; New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA) and one person was visiting from Ontario, Canada.
• 30 were from Polk County.
• 18 receive government assistance.
• Detectives seized cocaine, heroin, Xanax, methamphetamine, hydrocodone, marijuana, marijuana resin, and prescription drugs from those arrested during the operation.
• The oldest person arrested was 70 years old, while the youngest was 19 years old (4).
Of the seven men arrested for preying on children, five of them travelled to the operation location with the intent to sexually batter a child. The two men who did not travel to the operation were located and arrested. They were both charged with Using a Computer to Seduce/Lure a Child (F3) and Use of 2-Way Communication Device to Commit a Felony (F3).
The seven child predators are:
Anthony Gavin, 33, of Davenport – He thought he was chatting online with a 14-year-old boy when he said, “I don’t wanna be labeled a pedophile.” Gavin brought condoms to the location and when he was arrested, he told detectives that he was there, “because I’m stupid.”
Pierre Alvarez, 21, of Davenport – He believed he was communicating online with a 12-year-old girl. He sent nude photos of himself and discussed what he would like to do to the girl. Alvarez rode his bicycle to meet the girl and had a condom in his pocket when he was arrested.
Demitrus Gonzalez, 26, of Davenport – He contacted an undercover detective, thinking that he was chatting with a 14-year-old boy. Gonzalez drove to the operation and brought lubricant, condoms, and Xanax with him. While being arrested, he bit a Lakeland Police Officer on the hand.
Joshua Bryant, 23, from Brandon, FL
- He thought he was talking to a 14-year-old boy online and sent three nude photos and tried to arrange to pick up the boy. Bryant told the boy to sneak out of the house and he would hide the boy at his house when he was reported missing. After arriving at the location, Bryant got suspicious and collided with an undercover vehicle as he was trying to drive away.
Benjamin Castaneda, 24, from Orlando, FL – He made contact with what he thought was a 13-year-old girl online. In his texts, Castaneda wasted no time telling the undercover detective what he wanted to do with the girl. He drove to the location and arrived less than two hours after making initial contact and was arrested.
Matthew Minardi, 22, from Palm Harbor, FL – He began a sexually explicit conversation via social media with who he thought were two different 13-year-old girls, but both were actually undercover detectives. Minardi also sent a nude image of himself. He did not travel to the operation location, but was located and arrested by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office
William Stemmermann, 53, from Kissimmee, chatted with and called an undercover detective, thinking she was a 13-year-old girl. He attempted to arrange to meet and requested photos to be sent to him. Stemmermann did not travel to the operation location but was located and arrested in Kissimmee.