Operation March Sadness

Apr 15, 2024

Polk County continues to uphold its reputation for taking down major human trafficking operations in Central Florida– and there’s no sign of slowing down. The Polk County Sheriff’s Department announced a record number of arrests in the prostitution sting, Operation March Sadness 2024, effectively identifying victims of human trafficking.

On March 5th, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd revealed that his team had successfully conducted an eight-day undercover human trafficking operation across Polk County. Dubbed Operation March Sadness 2024, the sting resulted in 228 arrests and the rescue of potential human trafficking victims. While the Polk County Sheriff’s Department led the initiative, the operation received support from the police departments of Lakeland, Haines City, Davenport, Auburndale, and Lake Hamilton, as well as the Winterhaven Fire and Rescue team.


The Investigation

During this extensive investigation, a total of 13 potential human trafficking victims were identified among the 66 individuals arrested for prostitution-related offenses. Of those arrested, 150 suspects face charges of soliciting prostitution and traveling to an undercover location to negotiate sexual acts in exchange for money. Additionally, eight other individuals face accusations of profiting from prostitution or facilitating transportation for the prostitutes to the undercover meeting location.

Throughout the investigation, law enforcement filed over 70 felony charges and 288 misdemeanor charges related to solicitation of prostitution, offering to engage in prostitution, and aiding and abetting prostitution. Among those arrested, there were shocking and disturbing revelations that there were individuals from various positions of leadership, including school teachers, sports coaches, law enforcement officers, medical professionals, a commercial pilot, active-duty airmen, and an Air Force candidate.


March 5th Press Conference

During the press conference, Sheriff Grady Judd was joined by representatives from local law enforcement agencies and social service groups dedicated to aiding human trafficking victims. While Operation March Sadness marked a significant success in combating illegal prostitution and human trafficking, Sheriff Judd highlighted some of the challenges encountered in assisting victims:

“… the biggest problem we have in this type of investigation is getting the victims to admit their victims because they’re more afraid of their pimps and the human traffickers than they are the criminal justice system,” Sheriff Judd said.

Unfortunately, many victims may refrain from coming forward due to fear. That is why the Polk County Sheriff’s Department partners with organizations dedicated to supporting survivors on their journey to recovery. By offering up their resources, survivors can access the necessary tools to heal and readjust to life with meaningful employment opportunities.


Additional Notes on Operation March Sadness

According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office press release:

  • 21 of the arrested individuals are suspected of being in the country illegally from Chile, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.
  • 42 suspects disclosed to detectives that they are married.
  • 11 suspects told detectives they receive government assistance.
  • 44 suspects were found in possession of illegal drugs at the location, including fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, MDMA, hydrocodone, Xanax, methamphetamine, and marijuana.
  • 15 suspects brought firearms to the undercover location, with a total of 17 firearms seized.
  • 18 suspects were from various U.S. states and territories, such as Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Puerto Rico.
  • The oldest person arrested is 73, while the youngest is 16.

Additionally, beyond those involved in sex crimes, two teenage brothers were arrested for planning to rob an undercover detective posing as a prostitute.


Praise for Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd

As a non-profit organization providing services for victims of child sex trafficking in Tampa Bay, we commend the efforts led by Sheriff Grady Judd and the Polk County Sheriff’s Department. We hold Sheriff Grady Judd in high regard for his unwavering commitment to keeping our community safe and rescuing victims from human trafficking. His continuous effort and leadership are commendable examples of how every sheriff should handle such situations nationwide. Every county should have a sheriff like Sheriff Grady Judd!

To hear more about Operation March Sadness, watch the update from Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd in the YouTube video below:

If you observe any suspicious activities in Hillsborough County, please report them to 911 or 813-247-8200.


About Bridging Freedom

Are you looking to support a local non-profit in the Tampa Bay metro area that focuses on eliminating human trafficking? Bridging Freedom aims to fight minor sex trafficking through our restoration programs and education resources. In short, we depend on the generosity and collaboration of our local community of donors and supporters. If you would like to support our organization, then please consider donating online at the webpage here.




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