|An investigation aimed at combatting sexual exploitation in Hillsborough County resulted in a record number of arrests during the Super Bowl week, as well as the recovery of six individuals believed to be victims of human trafficking.
Throughout the course of the investigation dubbed "Operation Game Over," which started Monday, February 1, and ended Saturday, February 6, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office arrested a total of 75 people who were seeking to either buy or sell sex. Undercover deputies targeted massage parlors, hotels, motels, and online chatrooms known for illicit activity. Arrestees range in age, from as young as 19, up to 73 years old.
"The sickening practice of human trafficking is a crime that is nothing less than modern day slavery," said Sheriff Chad Chronister. "Escaping the wrath of a trafficker takes courage and in some cases, is nearly impossible. For this reason we have not and will not relent in our efforts to stop the demand and we are accomplishing this one arrest at a time."
Among those arrested are three men who have been charged with human trafficking. On Thursday, February 4, 2021, detectives arrested Juan Cano Jr., after he engaged in an online chat conversation with an undercover detective who was posing as a trafficker. Cano Jr. struck a deal with the undercover detective to have sex with a 17-year-old girl for $150. The suspect was arrested after he traveled to a local hotel and was met by detectives inside the room.
The following day, Alvin Lynch Jr., 34, and Scott Fitzgerald, 27, were arrested after undercover detectives observed the men accompanying a woman who had placed online ads offering sexual services. The victim traveled to a Tampa hotel where undercover detectives were waiting to meet her. After the woman entered the hotel room, detectives had enough probable cause to arrest Lynch and Fitzgerald, who were both waiting in a vehicle outside. The victim told detectives there were at least two other women who were being trafficked by the two men. Detectives located both victims, one of whom is a 17-year-old. The teen was taken into custody by HCSO's Child Protective Investigations Division, and the other two were connected with Selah Freedom, a local non-profit that provides services and counseling to human trafficking survivors.
"Individuals who buy sex, whether they know it or not, may be exploiting a human trafficking victim for their own pleasure," said Sheriff Chad Chronister. "Those who offer sexual services may be doing it against their will and an arrest may be their only chance at freedom."
Operation Game Over was executed across the county. Thirty-two individuals were arrested at hotels and motels, 27 people were arrested along roadways, eight women were arrested at massage parlors, and eight men were arrested for engaging in explicitly sexual online chat conversations with undercover detectives they believed to be minors. Frank Hicks, 31, Joseph Garcia, 27, Tyler Scalici, 26, Keith Prevatt, 34, and Cori Avery, 31, all face felony charges for traveling to a hotel to meet the juvenile with the intention of having sex.
"While the Super Bowl has come and gone, our fight against human trafficking is far from over," said Sheriff Chad Chronister. "We will remain vigilant to rescue individuals from the cruel and miserable underworld of human trafficking and pursue those who propogate this despicable practice."