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Manatee County is an area in the middle western portion of Florida, often considered a part of the Tampa Bay area with a population of around 400,000. Prostitution, sex trafficking, and related crimes are well documented within the county. For example, a house in the county’s largest town, Bradenton, was raided to expose a human trafficking sex ring in 2007.
Among the efforts to address such problems are those targeting consumer level demand for commercial sex. The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has been involved in many prostitution reverse stings since 1996, arresting from five to 15 men each time. Web-based reverse stings began in 2007. The stings involve female deputies posing as prostituted women in order to catch buyers. Names of the arrested are sometimes -although not always – reported to the public via news outlets. Police began releasing sex buyer identities in 1999. Sometimes news outlets publish only the hometowns, age range, and gender, without names.
In 2013, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office implemented a weeklong undercover sex trafficking sting titled Operation Green Shepherd, which was focused on arresting online sexual predators. According to the local law firm Whittel & Melton, “All of the men were charged with using a computer to solicit sex from a minor and traveling to seduce or entice a minor to commit a sexual act.” 43 men were arrested, with sixteen being Manatee County residents. All involved believed they were meeting someone for sex under the age of fourteen.
A man arrested during a reverse sting by the Bradenton Police Department on July 27, 2017, on the 2500 block of 14th St. West, was found guilty and sentenced to 12 months of probation, and ordered to complete 100 hours of community service. Conditions of probation imposed by the Manatee County court included undergoing STD screening and completing a restorative justice class.
Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred within the county. For example, in April, 2018, the Manatee County School Board voted unanimously to fire a bus driver convicted of soliciting a prostituted woman. The school district’s general counsel said that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement alerted school officials to the man’s July 2017 arrest. The state agency regularly screens certain school employees and then sends a report to the district. The bus driver was found guilty of the misdemeanor charge in February, 2018. The district responded to the man’s conviction by serving him an administrative complaint for his termination. The Superintendent later recommended the board approve the man’s termination. The man was allowed a chance to argue his case, and the board voted 5-0 to approve his termination.
In 2020, a former Manatee County Sheriff’s Office sergeant, Stephen Utter, was arrested in a sting targeting child predators in Hillsborough County, Florida. His identity was disclosed in the local news.
- Manatee County Sheriff’s Office
- Manatee County School Board
- Bradenton Police Department
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
- Florida Department of Law Enforcement
Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
Background on local prostitution and sex trafficking:
- https://www.floridasexcrimeattorney.com/manatee-county-child-predator-sex-sting (2013)
- http://www.theledger.com/news/20171117/manatee-sheriff-sex-offender-locked-women-in-storage-unit-gave-them-drugs (2017)
Community Service, John School:
Loss of Employment, Identity Disclosure:
Criminal transmission of HIV in commercial sex: