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Tampa is a city of about 400,000 residents situated on the Gulf coast of Florida, and serves as the government seat of Hillsborough County. The city and the surrounding areas of the county are known to have substantial activity in sex trafficking and prostitution, which generates a wide range of related crimes, including cases of prostitution-related homicide. For example, in May, 2022 Hillsborough prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty for a man they had accused of committing two separate murders in 2021 in Tampa. The offender faced two counts of first-degree murder for the stabbing of two women were both homeless and had survived through prostitution. Court records and testimony indicate that DNA and other evidence linked the man to both crimes. A written notice filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court a list of aggravating circumstances that the state says apply to both murders. They include that the man was convicted of a prior felony (sex offenses), and that the killings were especially “heinous, atrocious or cruel.” A construction crew found one of the victims – a 54 year old woman – dead in an abandoned house that was set to be demolished on East Sligh Ave. A detective later testified that she had been stabbed close to 60 times. Six weeks later, someone called 911 in the early morning to report that someone was lying on the ground, covered in blood, beside a house that was being remodeled about two miles from where the first woman was murdered. A man was standing over her, and he was later identified and apprehended. When detectives questioned him, the defendant admitted he’d paid the second woman for sex, according to court testimony.
Tampa agencies and those with whom they collaborate within the county and from neighboring communities have pursued a wide range of strategies focusing on the demand for commercial sex as a means of combating prostitution and sex trafficking, and the numerous related crimes they produce. These tactics include both street-level and web-based reverse stings, a john school, SOAP orders, shaming, vehicle seizures, neighborhood based initiatives, and public education efforts.
Tampa has – at times – arrested sex buyers with enough regularity to supply a john school program with participants in the early to mid 2000s, but by about the end of 2008 the police department turned their attention to other priorities, and rarely conducted reverse stings. While not disbanded, there were insufficient numbers of sex buyers arrested, and few referrals to the program. Reverse stings appear to have been conducted at least once per year between 2010 and 2014. Since about 2017-2018, the frequency appears to have increased, and some recent operations have been large-scale. For example, between December 7, 2020 and January 9, 2021, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office conducted “Operation Interception,” a set of investigations and stings intended to deter sex trafficking leading up to the 2021 Super Bowl in Tampa. On January 11, 2021 the Sheriff’s Office announced the arrests of 71 individual sex buyers during the undercover operation.
In February 2012, Tampa established an exclusion zone that applies to sex buyers as well as those providing commercial sex. The Prostitution Enforcement Zone covers the area from Fowler Avenue to the north, Seventh Avenue to the south, North 15th Street to the east and Florida Avenue to the west. The zone applies to people who have been charged for the third time (or more) with a prostitution offense. Upon a third arrest, the misdemeanor prostitution charge can be upgraded to a felony and the State Attorney’s Office can ask judges to put offenders on probation and ban them from the area. Exceptions would be limited to activities like visiting a doctor or buying groceries.
Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred within the city. For example, in March, 1991, a veteran television news anchorman resigned after admitting his guilt on charges of “procuring prostitution” from a teenage girl, his second prostitution-related arrest. The Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office had filed a three-count information charging the suspect with procuring a person under the age of 16 for prostitution, soliciting for prostitution and engaging in prostitution. The charge involving the minor was a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The other two charges were second-degree misdemeanors, punishable by up to 60 days in jail for each. The charges are the result of an investigation conducted by Tampa police and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office. All of the alleged crimes occurred in June 1990. The girl’s age was not disclosed except to say she was “under 16.” The 56-year-old anchorman for Tampa television station WTVT surrendered to face the charges, according to the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office. Prior to his 1991 resignation, the man had been employed for more than 27 years at WTVT. In 1982, the same man had publicly apologized after pleading guilty to a charge of soliciting prostitution after he had propositioned an undercover vice officer.
In January, 2021, an attorney based in Tampa was disbarred for filming his own sexual encounter with at least one female inmate for the production of a pornographic video. At that time, he was already been suspended following his convictions for solicitation of prostitution and bringing contraband into county detention facilities. The man had solicited sex inside attorney-client visitation rooms at two separate jail facilities in Florida. According to the summary of Florida Supreme Court’s ruling to disbar him, the lawyer had“ abused his privilege to practice law.” The man had also drawn up a modeling contract for inmates, where women would have to agree not to reveal his identity. In one instance, the offender had paid a woman $10 after recording her give oral sex to him at the Falkenburg Road Jail in Hillsborough County.
- “‘John School’ Attacks Prostitution Demand Side”, WUSF Radio, June 26 2001.
- “Project HOPE Helped Break the Cycle of Prostitution and Solicitation, But Had Implementation Problems”, Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA), August 2004.
- “Police Dispute Female Decoy’s Claim to $2,500”, St. Petersburg Times, May 28 1977.
- “TV Anchorman Smith Accused of Soliciting for Prostitution”, The Evening Independent, September 10 1982.
- “Bucs’ Reese Arrested on Prostitution Charge”, Tuscaloosa News, June 1 1984.
- “16 People Charged in Prostitution Sting”, St. Petersburg Times, May 20 1989.
- “8 Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, St. Petersburg Times, August 11 1989.
- “Charge Dropped Against Priest”, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, January 8 1992.
- “‘Prostitute’ Was a Cop and So Was ‘John’, Police Say”, St. Petersburg Times, November 8 1997.
- “Review Sought of Case Pressed Against Officer”, St. Petersburg Times, June 2 1999.
- “Officers Wired for Safety, Accuracy”, St. Petersburg Times, June 4 1999.
- “Police Working to Stop Lewd Acts; Series- Tampa Uncuffed”, St. Petersburg Times, July 22 1999.
- “Police Arrest 11 Men in Prostitution Sting”, St. Petersburg Times, April 27 2004.
- “Armed Robber of Five Stores Caught on Tape”, St. Petersburg Times, December 12 2007.
- “Lawyer Arrested in Tampa Prostitution Sting”, Tampa Bay Times, September 30 2008.
- “5 Men Arrested in Nebraska Avenue Prostitution Sting”, Tampa Bay Online, October 5 2008.
- “Army Officer Arrested in Tampa Prostitution Sting”, Tampa Bay Online, October 9 2008.
- “Prostitution Crackdown in Seminole Heights”, CBS/WTSP-TV 10, October 11 2008.
- “Prostitution Sting in Southeast Seminole Heights Nabs 17”, Tampa Bay Times, November 17 2008.
- “Tampa Police Targeting Prostitution During Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa”, Tampa Bay Times, January 27 2009.
- “Tampa Police: 5 Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Tampa Bay Online, May 10 2009.
- “Spoto High Coach Suspended After Prostitution Solicitation Arrest”, Tampa Bay Times, July 16 2009.
- “Tampa Prostitution Sting Nets 8 Arrests at Nebraska Avenue Motel”, Tampa Bay Times, July 22 2009.
- “Tampa Police Arrest Five in Valentine’s Day Prostitution Sting”, Tampa Bay Times, February 15 2010.
- “Tampa Police Arrest Seven on Soliciting Prostitution”, Tampa Bay Times, March 20 2010.
- “Detectives Set Up Tampa Prostitution Sting”, CBS/WTSP-TV 10, March 12 2011.
- “Police: Florida Woman Tried Her Father a Prostitute for Easter”, Fox News, April 26 2011.
- “Tampa Police Arrest 25 in Prostitution Crackdown Near Nebraska Avenue”, Tampa Bay Times, February 18 2012.
- https://popculture.com/trending/news/tampa-prostitution-bust-leads-71-arrests-leadup-to-super-bowl/ (2021)
Loss of Employment:
- https://www.upi.com/TV-anchor-admits-soliciting-teen-prostitute/ (1991)
- https://nypost.com/florida-lawyer-disbarred-for-filming-sexual-encounter-with-inmate/ (2021)
- https://www.tampabay.com/tampa-attorney-disbarred-after-he-was-caught-in-jail-with-his-zipper-down/ (2021)
- https://www.abcactionnews.com/florida-attorney-arrested-reportedly-exposed-himself-to-solicited-sexual-favors-from-inmate (2021)
Arrest of Sex Buyers, Disclosure of Identities:
- https://www.upi.com/Archives/1991/03/14/TV-anchor-admits-soliciting-teen-prostitute/ (1991)
- https://www.tampabay.com/state-attorney-to-seek-death-penalty-man-accused-2-tampa-slayings/ (2022)
- “Anti-Prostitution Plan Includes Car Seizures”, St. Petersburg Times, March 7 1997.
- “Police Seize Cars to Ebb Crime”, The News Press (Fort Myers), July 4 1999.
- “New Weapon Fights Sex Trade”, Daytona Beach News-Journal, September 28 2003.
- “Drivers Caught Soliciting Prostitutes Will Pay $500”, South Tampa Patch, December 15 2011.
- “Residents Hit Streets to Banish Hookers”, Tampa Bay Online, November 16 2000.
- “Police Back Residents’ Patrol Plan”, Tampa Bay Online, December 15 2000.
- “Takin’ It to the Streets”, Tampa Bay Online, January 14 2001.
- “Activists Ask City to Target Nebraska”, Tampa Bay Online, March 22 2001.
- “Nebraska Avenue Park Gets Facelift”, Tampa Bay Online, May 12 2001.
- “Community Effort Having a Positive Impact”, Tampa Bay Online, June 3 2001.
- “Prostitution Defies Community Vigils, Police Action”, St. Petersburg Times, January 7 2002.
- “Neighbors Noticing More Prostitutes”, Tampa Bay Times, September 24 2008.
SOAP Orders and License Suspension:
- “Prostitution-Fighting Plan Unveiled in Tampa”, St. Petersburg Times, March 27 1998.
- “Banning Prostitutes from Parts of Tampa Draws Praise, Criticism”, Tampa Bay Online, February 16 2012.
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Tampa Couple Charged with Trying to Sell Two Teens into Prostitution”, Lakeland Ledger, August 28 1980.
- “Arrest Made in Child Prostitution Ring”, St. Petersburg Times, August 11 1988.
- “Tampa Man Set Up Teen For Prostitution, Police Say”, Tampa Bay Online, July 3 2010.
- “Police Say Prostitution Ring Operated Out of South Tampa House”, Tampa Bay Times, August 26 2011.
- “Prostitute Admits Forcing Teen Girls into Sex Trade”, Tampa Bay Online, October 9 2012.
- “Tampa Targets Massage Parlors that Front for Prostitution”, Tampa Bay Online, October 13 2012.
- “VIDEO: Runaway Teens Held in Hotel, Forced into Prostitution”, USA Today, June 14 2013.
- “Broward Judge Sets $30,000 Bond for Man Charged with Human Trafficking”, NBC/WTVJ-TV 6, June 28 2013.
- “Man Beat Homeless Woman, Forced Her into Prostitution, Police Say”, South Florida Sun Sentinel, June 28 2013.
- “Tampa Man Admits Keeping Teens for Prostitution”, Tampa Tribune, January 27 2014.
- “South Florida Man Gets 37 Years for Sex Trafficking,” South Florida Sun Sentinel, December 8 2014.
- “Tampa Man Accused of Forcing 16-Year-Old Girl into Prostitution,” Tampa Bay Times, April 28 2015.
- “Witness Gave Inconsistent Narratives in Human Trafficking Investigation; Florida Keys Children’s Shelter Former Staffer’s Federal Trial Continues Next Week,” Florida Keys Keynoter, October 31 2015.
- https://www.justice.gov/usao-mdfl/florida-man-who-financed-and-patronized-child-sex-trafficking-ring-philippines (2021)
- https://www.justice.gov/usao-mdfl/new-york-man-sentenced-more-10-years-federal-prison-conspiring-and-attempting-engage (2021)
- https://www.abcactionnews.com/man-charged-with-human-trafficking-in-tampa-pleads-guilty-to-lesser-charge (2021)
- https://lawandcrime.com/father-who-claimed-to-be-fertility-doctor-sex-trafficked-15-year-old-girl-sent-to-prison/ (2022)
- https://www.justice.gov/usao-mdfl/pr/texas-man-pleads-guilty-trafficking-minor-houston-tampa-florida (2022)
- https://www.wtsp.com/sex-human-trafficking-selah-freedom-echo-analytics-group (2022)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “9 Arrested in Smash of Tampa Vice Ring”, St. Petersburg Times, June 15 1961.
- “40 Arrested in Crackdown of Prostitution in Tampa”, Lakeland Ledger, March 26 1986.
- “Neighbors Complain Male Prostitution Has Overrun Corner”, St. Petersburg Times, August 18 1987.
- “Tampa Officials Unveil New Plans to Tackle Prostitution”, St. Petersburg Times, March 27 1998.
- “Sweep Targets Crime in East Tampa”, St. Petersburg Times, May 13 2003.
- https://www.kiro7.com/news/trending/pastor-girls-basketball-coach-among-79-arrested-florida-human-trafficking-sting (2021)
Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Dismembered Body that of Prostitute,” Ocala Star-Banner, March 10 1988.
- “Jurors Deliberate Killer’s Fate; Convicted in Death of Tampa Prostitute”, Ocala Star-Banner, November 9 1988.
- “Man Shot by Officer in Robles Park Prostitution Sting”, Tampa Bay Times, May 20 2008.
- “Porn Stars Accused of Sex-Party Murder Shared Exploits on Twitter, Text Messages”, Tampa Bay Times, June 26 2010.
- “Tampa Police Arrest 16 in Prostitution Crackdown Before RNC”, Tampa Bay Online, August 18 2012.
- https://www.tampabay.com/state-attorney-to-seek-death-penalty-for-man-accused-of-2-tampa-slayings/ (2022)
- https://southfloridagaynews.com/oakland-park-murder-solved-after-12-years (2022)