HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10)–The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office conducted a 20-day operation combatting human trafficking resulted in 125 arrests, and the rescue of 5 individuals believed to be victims of human trafficking.

Throughout the investigation dubbed “Operation Round-Up,” which began on August 4, 2021, and ended on October 13, 20201, undercover detectives targeted criminals who attempted to prey upon minors, sought sex for themselves, or exploited victims through human trafficking.

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“Individuals who make a conscious choice and effort to take advantage of others through human trafficking have no room in Hillsborough County,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister. “Our approach and efforts year-round are proactive and relentless. Our strong team of detectives will continue to work tirelessly to takedown and put a stop to human trafficking.”

Detectives arrested Joel Velasco, 38, a Hillsborough County Public School teacher, and Samuel Phillips Jr., 44, a pastor at Be Limitless Church.
“These men who were all held to a standard of trust and respect were all arrested for soliciting another to commit prostitution,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister.

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Detectives also arrested two men for the Transmission of Harmful Material to a Minor, one of whom was charged with Traveling to Meet a Minor After Using Comp Services/Devices to Solicit Certain Act.

This operation also helped rescue four women and one teenager from the heinous grasp of human trafficking. The victims were recovered and referred to Selah Freedom, which then offered needed support and resources.

Because of the unfortunate success of this operation and others alike, HCSO has created a Human Trafficking Squad. This team of 12 dedicated members will uphold the commitment to ending human trafficking in Hillsborough County by reducing the demand, and rescuing victims.

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You can report suspected human trafficking by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.