A massive child sex trafficking network was busted this week by Florida authorities. According to police, the bust ended a two-year probe that resulted in 178 arrests, including a high-profile booster for Florida State University.
The Tallahassee Police Department said the operation, called "Stolen Innocence," wrapped up on Tuesday with charges ranging from solicitation of prostitution to human trafficking of a minor.
The operation began when investigators saw images of a child posted on a website that advertises sex for money. Even though the girl was 13 and 14 during most of the alleged offenses, lead investigator Elizabeth Bascom believes the abuse may have begun before her 13th birthday.
According to authorities, 72 suspects were charged with misdemeanors and notices to appear, 106 people saw felony charges, and 18 of those felonies are being charged federally.
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 were all caught in the bust. Several women were also charged with helping to arrange paid "plays" with the teen in exchange for cash.
"[The girl is] on the road to recovery, and she's doing well given the situation," said Bascom. "She does have things to say. 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."
According to police reports, several defendants claimed in sworn interviews that the girl's mother would allow people to have sex with her teenage daughter only in exchange for drugs or money. A police spokesperson could not confirm if the girl's mother was involved in the network.
"[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," said Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell. "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."
Federal authorities were also a part of the investigation.