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Lee County is a county of approximately 788,000 residents, containing the cities of Fort Myers, North Fort Myers, Tice and Bonita Springs. Situated along Florida’s southwest coast, including in Lee County, and residents and businesses have reported numerous problems related to prostitution and sex trafficking along major highways, interstates, and motels for decades. Serious problems are associated with the local commercial sex market, including human 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.” Sex buyers have also been killed in Lee County. For example, in 2015 the charred remains of a man were found, and it became an unsolved “cold case” for seven years. In February, 2023, it was announced that an arrest had been made and the nature of the interactions that led to the homicide became known. The man had been shot and his remains set on fire. The murdered man was allegedly involved in paying to sexually assault a trafficked 15 year old girl.
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 access to sexually abuse 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.
- Lee County Sheriff’s Office
- 20th Judicial Circuit
Web-based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “LCSO: 9 Popped in Prostitution Sting”, North Fort Myers Neighbor, March 8 2012.
- “9 Arrested in Lee County Prostitution Sting”, Naples Daily News, August 2 2013.
- “Lee County Backpage Sting Nets 9 Arrests”, FOX/WFTX-TV 4, August 2 2013.
- “Nine Arrested in Lee County Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WBBH-TV 2, August 2 2013.
- http://www.winknews.com/online-predator-sting-nets-18-arrests-for-soliciting-children-for-sex-in-lee-county/ (2018)
Sex Buyer Arrest, Employment Loss:
Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Area:
- “Police Net Seven in Prostitution Sting Operation”, North Fort Myers Neighbor, April 2 2010.
- “LCSO Operation Nets 13 on Charges”, North Fort Myers Neighbor, June 4 2010.
- “Woman Arrested in Prostitution Sting Will Not Be Prosecuted”, North Fort Myers Neighbor, August 22 2011.
- https://www.fortmyersbeachtalk.com/cape-woman-charged-in-prostitution-sting/ (2010)
- “Lee County Deputies arrest man for human trafficking,” Wink News October 26, 2010.
- “Lee County Couple plead guilty in forced prostitution case,” Human Trafficking Awareness Partnership July 10, 2013.
- “Lee man accused of forcing woman into prostitution,” Naples News, July 3, 2014.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch (2017)
- https://currently.att.yahoo.com/trial-starts-lehigh-acres-man (2022)
- https://www.news-press.com/sex-trafficking-case-results-guilty-verdict-lehigh-acres-man/ (2022)
Local Prostitution-Related Homicide:
- https://www.fox4now.com/news/local-news/lee-county-sheriff-gives-update-on-human-trafficking-case (2023)
- https://www.fox4now.com/lee-county-sheriffs-office-makes-additional-arrest-in-2015-case-tied-to-human-trafficking (2023)