Vero Beach is a city of about 17,000 residents locate on the Atlantic coast of Florida, between Palm Bay and Port St. Lucie. The presence of prostitution and its associated crime and disorder problems in the city have been well documented for decades, particularly street prostitution and storefront brothels (e.g., massage parlors) along Route 1. Sex trafficking is also documented to have occurred in the city. In April 2014, a two-month investigation into online human trafficking led to the arrest of a Vero Beach man for allegedly offering several minors for prostitution between February and April, according to Sheriff’s Office reports. An apartment complex and two hotels along Route 1 in Vero Beach were used in the operation, according to the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office. The human trafficking investigation started with a tip that a man was forcing women to have commercial sex. Police interviews with confidential informants and one of the victims revealed that the man provided drugs to create an addiction and that they would have to work the debt off in the form of commercial sexual acts. The victims told detectives that if they did not perform sexual acts and immediately turn their earnings over, the pimp would threaten or use physical violence against them
The first reverse sting known to have been conducted in the city occurred in 1989. A three-day deployment of a decoy and support team resulted in the arrest of 14 sex buyers. The sting was the product of community complaints and confirming evidence about a sudden surge in prostitution in the area. Periodic operations have continued through to the present, including a street-level reverse sting conducted in May of 2012 that produced four arrests. The names, ages, and photos of the arrestees have been released to the media, and some news outlets have reported them.
For several months in 2008, two Vero Beach message parlors along Route 1 were investigated for prostitution. The two storefront brothels were found to be parts of a larger prostitution ring extending to Boynton Beach and Daytona Beach. The Vero Beach operations were shut down and six arrests were made for racketeering and the unlicensed practice of health care. For a two month period (October-November) the brothels were under surveillance by a joint investigation team of the Vero Beach Police Department, Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, and Boynton Beach Police Department. During this time, dozens of men were observed entering and exiting the businesses. These observations were combined with other intelligence from the investigation and the amount paid, sex acts conducted, and identities of the sex buyers was determined. Investigators counted only one of 60 people who had entered the businesses to have received only a massage. In December of 2008, 35 men were sought on arrest warrants for solicitation of prostitution.
While revealing of the identities of men arrested for soliciting sex if common (used by roughly 60% of all police departments that conduct reverse stings), a highly unusual situation arose in Vero Beach: the names and ages of men who had been issued an arrest warrant in the brothel investigations were released to the media. In February, 2019, more than 100 men were sought on solicitation of prostitution charges by police in Vero Beach. Local police and the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office revealed the results of an investigation into illegal sex acts and human trafficking at massage parlors in Vero Beach and Sebastian., and distributed photos of the men facing charges.
- Vero Beach Police Department
- Indian River County Sheriff’s Office
- Boynton Beach Police Department
- Indian River County Multi-Agency Enforcement Unit
- Reverse Sting and Shaming:
- Arrest Warrants and Shaming of Brothel Clients:
- “Two Vero Beach Massage Parlors Involved in Prostitution Arrests”, Indian River Press Journal, December 31 2008.
- “Racketeering Charges Land Seven in Jail”, Hometown News, January 1 2009.
- https://www.sebastiandaily.com/crime/johns-island-foundation-president-arrested-in-prostitution-sting (2019)
- https://kdvr.com/2019/02/23/colorado-springs-man-allegedly-tied-to-florida-prostitution-sting/ (2019)
- https://cbs12.com/news/local/vero-beach-police-discuss-massage-parlor-sex-crackdown (2019)
- Sex Trafficking in the Area: