Lee County, FL

Tactics Used

Buyer Arrests
Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Lee County is a county of approximately 587,000 residents, containing the cities of Fort Myers, North Fort Myers, Tice and Bonita Springs. Situated along Florida’s southwest coast, the county and its residents have reported problems related to prostitution along major highways and interstates for many years.  Serious problems are associated with the local commercial sex market, including sex trafficking and prostitution-related homicides.  For example, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Homicide Unit keeps a list of 20 cases of homicide within the county in which the victims were prostituted women, dating back to 1975.  A string of murders in the mid-’90s created fear of a serial killer of prostituted women, but investigators are reluctant to attribute sets of victims to a single offender.  The bodies of these victims were found by strangers in vacant lots, on roadsides, and floating in local bodies of water. Nearly all were strangled or beaten to death, and some had been shot. Only four of the deaths have been cleared by an arrest or otherwise “solved.”

In addition their contributions to city-level anti-prostitution efforts, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office has on occasion conducted web stings targeting sex buyers without disclosing the location(s) of the operation. This may be done to ensure that future undercover operations can be conducted using similar tactics. For example, in May 2018, the Sheriff’s Office announced the results of an undercover operation called ‘Operation Picket Fence’ in which 18 suspects were arrested for attempting to buy sex with children. More than 65 exchanges of messages occurred in which  suspects initiated contact with an investigator posing a minor, suspects directed conversations toward sex (sometimes sending or requesting obscene content). Three of the suspects arrested were registered sex offenders and one had previous arrests for Seducing a Child Over the Internet and Possession of Child Pornography. While the precise location of sting operations may not be disclosed, the LCSO routinely releases the names and mugshots of all individuals arrested and charged with prostitution-related offenses.

Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred within the county. For example, in February, 2018, a Lee County judge resigned after he was arrested during a prostitution sting in Naples, according to a spokesperson for the 20th judicial circuit.  The judge was arrested days before in Naples. According to Naples Police, the man agreed to pay an undercover officer $300 for sex acts at a Naples hotel. The judge entered a plea of not guilty to the charges he faced.

Key Partners

  • Lee County Sheriff’s Office
  • 20th Judicial Circuit
State Florida
Type County
Population 586908
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