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Palm Beach County is a county of approximately 1.5 million residents located on the eastern shore of Florida. Prostitution and sex trafficking are longstanding problems in the area. A wide range of additional crimes associated with the local sex trade have also been documented, including child sex trafficking and prostitution-related homicide, and serial killers who specifically target prostituted women have operated in the county.
Among the more serious issues associated with the county’s commercial sex market is the sex trafficking of adults and minors through illicit massage businesses (IMBs). For example, from October 2018 to February 2019, a multi-agency sex trafficking investigation led by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office resulted in over 25 arrests. According to officials, the investigation was initiated after investigators received a tip through a complaint filed by the Health Department in July 2018, alleging that managers at Orchids of Asia Day Spa were sex trafficking women. The tip prompted an investigation by the Jupiter Police Department, during which surveillance at the parking lot observed a total of 97 men exiting the building in six days (while no females entered or exited). A trash pull by detectives yielded a spreadsheet of financial records showing names of presumed sex buyers and dates of transactions. Probable cause was established that allowed detectives to obtain warrants and place secret surveillance cameras inside the massage parlor. The videos captured sex acts and confirmed the identities of male sex buyers. As a result of the investigation, two women were arrested on sex trafficking charges after officials discovered they were responsible for two different sex trafficking operations at local massage parlors. In addition, 25 male sex buyers were arrested, and investigators seized $2-3 million in assets. Most of the 25 men faced charges of soliciting prostitution. Depending on the circumstances of the individual events, some men may not have been booked into the Palm Beach County jail and will not have had mug shots taken to publicize. Residents of Palm Beach County received a notice in the mail with a summons to appear in court; out-of-state residents may have warrants issued for their arrest in Florida. An arrest warrant does not guarantee a booking photo in Palm Beach County if there is a misdemeanor charge only. Other agencies in Florida may handle charging and booking differently, e.g., in related investigations, Martin County and Indian River County agencies posted photos of the alleged sex buyers. The results from all five investigations are as follows:
- Martin County Sheriff’s Office and Jupiter Police Department (collectively):
- seized a property in Stuart,
- two properties in Hobe Sound,
- six vehicles (including luxury cars like a Lexus and Mercedes-Benz), and
- more than $500,000 in cash
- Indian River County Sheriff’s Office:
- seized $22,000 in cash,
- a 2018 Toyota Corolla, and
- froze more than $110,000 in bank accounts
- Vero Beach Police Department:
- seized $30,000 in bank accounts and
- seized an undisclosed amount of cash
- Sebastian Police Department:
- seized almost $5,500 in cash
- seized laptops, cellphones, a credit card machine, and a plastic bag of finger condoms.
In an effort to reduce instances of prostitution and sex trafficking in the county, various demand reduction tactics have been deployed. These efforts include mandatory community service for some convicted sex buyers through the county courts, and at least three john schools have been established in the last 25 years. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, and some of the communities within the county, publicize the identities of arrested sex buyers. In at least one street-level reverse sting, arrested sex buyers were cited with the charge of soliciting prostitution from a motor vehicle, which, if found guilty, arrested sex buyers would automatically have their driver’s license revoked.
Loss of employment is also a consequence of buying sex in the county. For example, in 1992, a former Delray Beach Police Department officer was placed on paid administrative leave following allegations that the former officer had solicited sex from a prostituted woman in lieu of her arrest. Upon further investigation, officials learned that this had occurred in multiple instances. The department later officially fired the sex buyer due to his arrest. In 2016, a former Boynton Beach police officer was arrested during a reverse sting conducted by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. The sex buyer was initially placed on paid administrative leave, was suspended for 80 hours, and was required to complete a public corruption course. In addition, the BBPD received video evidence of the former officer soliciting an undercover deputy for commercial sex. The former officer was officially fired by the BBPD three months later and was determined to have violated two department policies: conduct unbecoming a police officer and conformance to the law. In 2022 a PBSO deputy was fired after an investigation prompted by allegations made by his former girlfriend. The allegation detailed that the deputy had been sending money to different males after having sex with them, with some incidents occurring while he was on duty.
In 1991, West Palm Beach established one of the first john schools in the United States, four years before the launch of San Francisco‘s First Offender Prostitution Program. Palm Beach County has had a john school program since the 1990s and presents an option for those arrested in Jupiter, FL, and elsewhere in Palm Beach County. In February 1990, the Palm Beach County Circuit Court developed a prostitution diversion program, named the “Risk Education for Sex Offenders” program. Limited to first-time offenders, the course offered men arrested for soliciting prostitutes the option of completing the program in lieu of jail time. The course was composed of a two-hour class, an HIV blood test, mandatory attendance at four court hearings for prostituted women, and “reading the psychological profile of a prostitute who was diagnosed with AIDS.” Following a reverse sting in 1993, a Palm Beach County Judge meted out the following penalties for charges of solicitation:
- six months probation at $40 per month
- successful completion of the Impact Prevention Education (PIPE) Program
- attend class
- take an HIV/sexually transmitted diseases blood test
- pay $25 to see a movie about safe sex
- payment of $175 in court costs
- completion of a minimum of eight hours of community service
Although it is unclear how long the aforementioned program remained in effect, in October 2009, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reported its current incarnation, the Prostitution Impact Prevention Education (PIPE) program –– had been offering a diversion option to male sex buyers since 2000. The program is administered by the West Palm Beach Police Department; it is limited to first-time offenders and includes a mandatory health education course. Between 2000 and 2009, 3,000 male sex buyers reportedly completed the program. Comprised of a five-hour lecture with “speakers from law enforcement, mental and physical health experts, and at times a former prostitute lecture about the dark side of hiring a lady (or gentleman) of the night, or being one” it allowed first-time offenders who complete the course, to submit an STD test, avoid re-arrest, and the opportunity to expunge the charge from their record and avoid a conviction for solicitation. In 2009, the course was offered 3-4 times a year, in classes of ~75 participants, in both Spanish and English.
In February 2016, following the completion of a sting, media outlets interviewed the PIPE program’s founder, Gail Levine, who suggested that between 2000 and 2015, more than 3,700 first-time offenders had completed the john school course, and only 22 re-offended. In 2019, an international human trafficking ring was uncovered during an undercover investigation into Jupiter’s Orchids of Asia Day Spa, which led to the arrest of the spa’s owner and manager, in addition to 25 alleged sex buyers, including the New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft and former Citigroup president, John Havens. The sex buyers were arrested on misdemeanor charges of prostitution and could face up to a year in jail, community service, and a half-day class educating sex buyers about the dangers of unprotected sex, the abuse prostituted women endure, and the legal implications of their actions. The sex buyers were referred to the Prostitution Impact Prevention Education (PIPE) program, operated by founder Gail Levine. She stated that the program aims to educate men arrested for solicitation of prostitution on the violence, drugs, and diseases that are rampant within the illicit sex business. By 2020, 4,200 first-time offenders had completed the program, with only a 1% recidivism rate. Upon completion of the program, charges are dismissed. According to records, as of 2021, the program remains in operation.
More recent news reports indicate that a variation of this basic program model continues to operate within the county. A local organization, headed by CEO Becky Dymond, helping sex trafficking survivors, collaborated with the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office to combat prostitution and sex trafficking. For over 13 years, West Palm Beach-based Hepzibah House and members of the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office have led a class for people — mostly men — who’ve been arrested on prostitution and solicitation charges. The program is called “The Buyers and Sellers’ School” or “Palm Beach County John School.” It works through the courts as a diversion program, and the goal is rehabilitation through participation in educational and therapeutic courses like the facts and myths of prostitution. Participants hear from survivors who hope to help stop the pattern of targeting vulnerable, naïve runaways or troubled teens who often become addicted to drugs or alcohol. There is also a similar class for those survivors who are taken into custody. For those who agree to enter the program and complete it, the original charge will be cleared through the D.A.’s Office. This program is for those who are facing misdemeanor solicitation or prostitution charges. Prostitution is a felony after the third charge – and such offenders are ineligible for the program. More information on the program is available through the Hepzibah House website.
- Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office
- Palm Beach County Circuit Court
- Palm Beach County Health Department
- Martin County Sheriff’s Office
- Indian River County Sheriff’s Office
- Vero Beach Police Department
- Sebastian Police Department
- Jupiter Police Department
- Delray Beach Police Department
- Prostitution Impact Prevention Education (PIPE) Program
- Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office
- Hepzibah House
- Risk Education for Sex Offenders
- Lighthouse PBC
- “Hookers, Clients Take Class to Avoid Jail,” Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, April 1 1991.
- https://www.latimes.com/vw-41-story (1993)
- Anti-Hooker crusade grows (1993)
- “Prostitution Prevention Program Hooks Johns,” Palm Beach Post, October 18 2000.
- “Sheriff’s Office Lures ‘Johns’ to Class,” Palm Beach Post, July 11 2001.
- “Pay For Sex, Get Lesson Instead,” Tampa Tribune, October 7 2001.
- “Tackling Demand for Prostitution,” Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, May 5 2003.
- “School for ‘Johns’ Tries to Scare Sex Solicitors Straight,” Palm Beach Post, July 23 2006.
- Class Teaches about Risks of Prostitution (2009)
- PIPE Founder Reports Only 22 Participants Out of 3,200 Have Reoffended from 2000 to 2015 (2016)
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/schooling-johns-how-palm-beach-county-handles-prostitution-arrests (2019)
- Prostitution Impact Prevention Education (PIPE)
- https://www.theledger.com/human-trafficking-probes-focus-target-johns (2019)
- International Human Trafficking Ring Uncovered in West Palm Beach, FL (2019)
- 4,200 First Time Offenders Complete the PIPE program, Only 1% Recidivism Rate
- Hepzibah House
- Hepzibah House Hosts John School in West Palm Beach Florida (2019)
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/schooling-johns-how-palm-beach-county-handles-prostitution-arrests (2019)
- https://cbs12.com/group-unveils-palm-beach-county-john-school-for-buyers-and-sellers-of-human-trafficking (2021)
Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “100 Arrested in Prostitution Sweep,” Palm Beach Post, September 24 1989.
- Men arrested in sting (1993)
- https://www.miamiherald.com/article (2011)
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/NEWS (2011)
- https://www.pbso.org/weekend-work-operation-heat-streets/ (2016)
Investigation of Brothel Using Video Evidence to Arrest Sex Buyers; Identity Disclosure:
- http://www.espn.com/patriots-owner-robert-kraft-charged-solicitation-prostitution (2019)
- https://www.nytimes.com/robert-kraft-jupiter-orchids-arrest.html (2019)
- https://www.cnbc.com/new-england-patriots-owner-robert-kraft-charged-with-soliciting-prostitution (2019)
- https://www.wptv.com/how-jupiter-detectives-gathered-evidence-in-prostitution-sting (2019)
- https://www.nytimes.com/robert-kraft-nfl.html (2019)
- https://www.bostonherald.com/summons-issued-as-kraft-prostitution-charges-move-forward/ (2019)
- https://www.northcentralpa.com/who-are-the-264-men-arrested-in-the-florida-day-spa (2019)
Sex Buyer Fired and/or Resigned Due to Arrest:
- “Officer Suspended after Sex Charges; Prostitute Says They Had Sex in Police Cruiser,” Boca Raton News, October 21 1992.
- “Fired Delray Officer Guilty of Sex with Prostitute,” Boca Raton News, April 10 1993.
- https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/html (1993)
- City fires officer caught in sting (2016)
- https://www.sun-sentinel.com/fl-boynton-beach-cop-fired (2016)
- https://www.local10.com/boynton-beach-police-officer-fired-after-arrest-during-prostitution-sting/ (2016)
- https://cbs12.com/internal-affairs-pbso-palm-beach-county-sheriffs-office-deputy (2022)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Sweep of Salons Nets 22,” Miami Herald, September 10 1988.
- “36 Arrested in County Prostitution Sweep,” Palm Beach Post, July 19 1990.
- https://www.wptv.com/underground-website-rubmaps-com-helps-customers-find-illicit-massage-parlors (2019)
- https://www.wptv.com/martin-county-sheriff-news-conference-on-8-month-investigation (2019)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Forcing Wife to Prostitution Charged to Man,” Palm Beach Post, July 30 1958.
- “Man Charged with Extortion,” Boca Raton News, July 28 1986.
- “Feds Bust State Sex Slavery Ring”, Miami Herald, April 24 1998.
- “Man Admits He Enslaved Young Women”, Miami Herald, April 10 1999.
- “Enslaved Women Could Share in $1 Million Restitution”, Miami Herald, April 10 1999.
- “6 Men Get Prison Time, Fine in Sex Slavery Case”, Miami Herald, April 19 1999.
- “Men Ordered to Pay Former Sexual Slaves”, Mount Airy News, April 19 1999.
- “Six-Figure Bail Set in Prostitution Slave Case; Judge Dismisses Charge Against One of 3 at Hearing”, Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, November 26 2008.
- “West Palm Beach Massage Parlor Owner Charged with Money Laundering, Forcing Women into Prostitution”, Palm Beach Post, April 19 2010.
- “West Palm Beach Woman Faces Life Sentence for Sex Trafficking”, Palm Beach Post, April 12 2012.
- “Human Sex Trafficking ‘a Big Problem’ in Palm Beach County,” NBC/WPTV-TV 5, May 13 2013.
- “Sex Trafficker Admits Guilt, Faces 15 Years,” Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, June 26 2015.
- “Palm Beach Couple that Pimped out Underage Girls Sentenced to Federal Prison,” New Times Broward-Palm Beach, July 20 2015.
- https://www.wpbf.com/palm-beach-county-human-trafficking-coalition (2022)
- https://bocapost.com/two-arrested-for-sex-trafficking-in-west-boca-raton/ (2023)
- https://www.palmbeachpost.com/two-men-sentenced-in-palm-beach-county-human-trafficking-operation (2023)
- https://news.yahoo.com/two-men-trafficked-women-sex-trafficking (2023)
Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Delray Police Seeking Robber of Prostitute,” Palm Beach Post, February 3 1982.
- “Rape Suspect Could Have Struck Twice,” Palm Beach Post, February 5 1982.
- “State Board Considering Sentencing; Delray Man Makes Appeal for Life Imprisonment,” Palm Beach Post, November 9 1983.
- “Man Robbed by Prostitute,” Boca Raton News, March 12 1984.
- “Man Beats, Robs Prostitute,” Boca Raton News, January 4 1991.
- “Delray Prostitute Shot Dead Outside Her Home,” Boca Raton News, February 22 1994.
- “Former Cop Charged in Prostitute’s Death,” Lakeland Ledger, March 5 1994.
- “Ex-Cop Pleads Guilty in Slaying; Prostitute Reported Having Sex with Delray Ex-Cop,” Boca Raton News, December 14 1994.
- “Man Arrested in Delray Rape, Beating,” Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, July 11 1995.
- “Life Term Given in Sexual Assaults”, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, June 18 2002.
- “Authorities Charge Man with Beating Prostitute; Officials Say Suspect May Be Responsible for at Least 13 Attacks,” Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, September 24 2009.
- “Lake Worth Man Charged with Rapes Seeks Speedy Trial”, NBC/WPTV-TV 5, June 13 2011.
- “Man, 80, Robbed while Visiting Prostitute in Boca, Police Say,” Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, March 25 2014.
- “Boynton Woman Found Dead Linked to Escort Web Site,” CBS/WGCL-TV 46, June 12 2014.
- “Jurors Hear Taped Statement from Man Accused of Killing Cross-Dressing Prostitute,” Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, June 16 2015.
- https://www.news5cleveland.com/florida-prostitute-accused-of-setting-up-customer-to-rob-him (2018)
- https://www.devdiscourse.com/ex-cheerleader-guilty-in-florida-prostitute-deaths (2022)