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Fort Myers is a city of approximately 92,000 residents, located near Cape Coral in Lee County, FL. Prostitution and sex trafficking in the city are well-documented, and local cases have included child sex trafficking, the murder of prostituted women, and the robbery and murder of sex buyers. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. For example, in 2015, 15 individuals were arrested as the result of a multi-agency, two-year-long sex trafficking investigation. According to reports, the investigation was initiated in 2013 after the Collier County Sheriff’s Office discovered a sex trafficking victim during a traffic stop. Investigators later identified six more female sex trafficking victims who had similarly been transported into the United States and lured into the sex trafficking operation. The sex trafficking ring operated in Collier, Lee, Hendry, Polk, and Miami-Dade counties.
Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. The Fort Myers Police Department has deployed various demand reduction tactics such as reverse sting operations. The FMPD has been conducting street-level reverse stings in the early 1980s, if not earlier. Since 2010, the FMPD has averaged two or three reverse stings per year, at times conducting multiple operations in a single month. In their efforts, FMPD officers have at times run “john” and “jane” stings in parallel, sending male and female officers undercover as both decoy sex buyers and prostituted women. Following their investigations, Fort Myers Police routinely release the names and other identifying information of individuals arrested for prostitution-related offenses. For example, in 1993, the FMPD conducted a reverse sting that resulted in the arrest of 12 male sex buyers, eight of whom had their vehicles impounded. All 12 men had their identities released in reports by local media outlets. In January 1999, Fort Myers city officials passed an ordinance enabling the FMPD to seize the cars of arrested sex buyers. Subsequent media reports suggest that the ordinance was used, at least initially, but it is unclear if it is still in effect.
Some arrests of sex buyers occur through investigation of allegations against real victims, rather than resulting from proactive reverse sting operations using police decoys. For example, in 2019 deputies arrested two people after a man in a van was observed picking up a woman and parking in a county park for sex. Lee County Sheriff’s Office deputies on patrol on Johnson Avenue observed a woman walking and then being approached by a white van driven by a man. The woman climbed into the van, which drove off. The deputy approached the van and observed the pair engaged in a sex act. Both suspects were arrested and charged with Procure for Prostitution.
Loss of employment is also a consequence of buying sex in the city. For example, in 2019, a former Fort Myers police officer was arrested for soliciting prostitution, official misconduct, and perjury. The 46-year-old Cape Coral man was arrested after a video of the former officer soliciting and engaged in prostitution with a female massage therapist while on duty and acting in an undercover capacity during a massage parlor operation in Fort Myers on March 14, 2013 was anonymously posted on Vimeo. As a result of the video evidence and a formal complaint filed by a former detective at the FMPD, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) opened an investigation into the officer in question. According to reports, the video evidence contradicts police records, demonstrating that the officer did engage in sex acts with the woman, and made false reports which led to the arrest of the massage therapist and the business owner. The FMPD placed the former captain on unpaid administrative leave pending the investigation. The day before the FDLE arrested the sex buyer on charges of 3rd Degree Felony Official Misconduct, 3rd Degree Felony Perjury in an Official Proceeding and 1st Degree Misdemeanor Solicitation of Prostitution, he announced his retirement. The case was assigned to the 12th Judicial Circuit in Sarasota, and subsequently dismissed, citing a lack of evidence available. After the dismissal, the police department completed its internal affairs investigation and sustained the allegations against the former captain.
Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “Area Counties Compare Notes on Use of ‘Sting’ Operations”, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 30 1984.
- “Church Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Ocala Star-Banner, August 11 1993.
- Sting nets 12 in crackdown on prostitution in Fort Myers (1993)
- Prostitution put on the run (1997)
- “Sting Nets 18 Arrests, But Not Suspect”, Fort Myers News Press, March 12 1999.
- “2 Autos Seized Under New Law”, Fort Myers News Press, April 8 1999.
- “Prostitution Targeted in U.S. 41 Operation”, Fort Myers News Press, December 15 2000.
- “Police Arrest 14 in Prostitution Bust”, Fort Myers News Press, November 10 2001.
- “Undercover Prostitution Operation Snares 15 Men”, Fort Myers News Press, April 25 2002.
- “Collier County”, Fort Myers News Press, June 17 2004.
- “Priest Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Fort Myers News Press, February 14 2006.
- “Police Arrest 18 in Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, June 15 2006.
- “31 Men Arrested in Bonita, Fort Myers Prostitution Stings”, Fort Myers News Press, September 3 2006.
- “11 Busted in Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, May 29 2007.
- “NBC2 Joins Undercover Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, July 19 2007.
- “Police Arrest 18 in Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, September 5 2008.
- “Police Sting Targets Prostitutes, Johns”, Fort Myers News Press, September 6 2008.
- “14 Arrested in Fort Myers Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, November 20 2009.
- “Fort Myers Prostitution Arrests: March 5, 2010”, Naples Daily News, March 5 2010.
- https://www.policeprostitutionandpolitics.com/pdfs former Cape Coral city councilman arrested prostitution sting.pdf (2010)
- “Police Nab 11 in Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, April 23 2010.
- “16 Nabbed in Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, June 20 2010.
- “Police: 15 Arrested in Fort Myers Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, October 29 2010.
- “Fort Myers Prostitution Arrests: Feb. 12, 2011”, Naples Daily News, February 12 2011.
- “Seven Arrested in Fort Myers Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, November 18 2011.
- “FMPD: Last Prostitution Sting of 2011”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, December 21 2011.
- “MUGSHOTS: Fort Myers Police Arrest 3 in Undercover Prostitution Sting”, Marco Island Eagle, December 22 2011.
- “Fort Myers Prostitution Arrests: Feb. 24, 2012”, Naples Daily News, February 24 2012.
- “12 Arrested in Fort Myers Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, April 20 2012.
- “Seven Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, May 24 2012.
- “Six Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, September 27 2012.
- “Fort Myers Prostitution Arrests: Oct. 19, 2012”, Naples Daily News, October 19 2012.
- “10 Busted During Undercover Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, January 28 2013.
- “10 Arrested in Fort Myers Prostitution Bust”, ABC/WZVN-HD 7, January 20 2014.
- “10 Arrested in Fort Myers Prostitution Sting”, FOX/WFTX-TV 4, January 20 2014.
- “FMPD Arrests Seven in Cleveland Avenue Prostitution Sting”, ABC/WZVN-HD 7, July 11 2014.
- “Fort Myers Prostitution Sting Nets Seven”, Fort Myers News Press, July 11 2014.
- “13 Arrested during a Prostitution Sting in Fort Myers,” CBS/WINK-TV 11, November 22 2014.
- “Fort Myers Police Arrests Six in Prostitution Sting,” Fort Myers News Press, March 2 2015.
- “Fort Myers Police Arrest Eight in Prostitution Sting,” Fort Myers News-Press, June 8 2015.
- “Nine Arrested for Soliciting Police Dressed as Prostitutes,” Fort Myers News-Press, September 4 2015.
Sex Buyer Arrest:
- “Arrest to Land Your Car in Jail”, Fort Myers News Press, January 6 1999.
- “Fort Myers Confiscates Few Cars”, Fort Myers News Press, May 13 1999.
- “Police Seize Cars to Ebb Crime”, Fort Myers News Press, July 4 1999.
Sex Buyer Fired and/or Resigned Due to Arrest:
- https://www.winknews.com/fdle-opens-criminal-investigation-into-2013-fmpd-prostitution-sting/ (2019)
- https://www.winknews.com/fdle-arrests-fort-myers-police-captain-for-prostitution-official-misconduct-and-perjury/ (2019)
- https://www.winknews.com/fmpd-captain-announces-retirement-files-not-guilty-plea-after-arrest/ (2019)
- https://www.winknews.com/did-fort-myers-pd-know-about-prostitution-accusations-in-2013-after-sting/ (2019)
- https://www.winknews.com/at-least-one-other-officer-knew-about-undercover-video-in-j-rodriguez-case/ (2019)
- https://www.winknews.com/fort-myers-pd-likely-had-video-of-former-captain-getting-sex-act-for-years/ (2019)
- https://www.dailymail.co.uk/Undercover-Florida-police-captain-solicited-prostitution-massage-parlor (2019)
- https://www.news-press.com/fort-myers-police-captain-arrested/ (2019)
- https://www.winknews.com/interviews-with-former-fmpd-police-captain-accused-of-sex-act-during-a-prostitution-sting-released/ (2020)
- https://www.winknews.com/former-police-captain-jay-rodriguez-returns-to-court-for-prostitution-scandal/ (2020)
- https://www.yahoo.com/news/two-more-fort-myers-police (2021)
- FMPD – Internal Affairs Investigation (2021)
Sex Trafficking in the Area:
- “Lee County Deputies: Texas Man Charged with Human Trafficking, Forcing Woman into Prostitution”, Fort Myers News Press, October 26 2013.
- “Texas Man Accused of Human Trafficking in Fort Myers”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, October 26 2013.
- FDLE’s Operation Human Freedom nets 15 arrests for human trafficking (2015)
- https://www.colliersheriff.org/Home/Components/News/News/28216/ (2015)
- https://www.winknews.com/fdles-operation-nets-15-arrests-for-human-trafficking/ (2015)
- https://www.fox4now.com/news/local-news/lee-county/sex-trafficker-of-children-sentenced-to-life (2022)
Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Police Probe Gang Link to Murder, Disappearance”, Daytona Beach Morning Journal, September 20 1982.
- “Task Force to Study Prostitute Murders”, Ocala Star-Banner, February 4 1995.
- “Three Now Under Arrest in Botched Robbery Murder”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, September 23 2013.
- “Torched Body with Gunshot Wound Found in Fort Myers”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, June 21 2014.