HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — One call saved a woman’s life and led to the arrest of a 52-year-old man in a “shocking” human trafficking case in Hillsborough County last month, authorities said.
On Sept. 14, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office received a disturbance call from a distressed female who told authorities “her pimp” was trying to forcibly enter the residence where she had locked herself into the bathroom.
When deputies arrived, they found an adult female and a male at the location. HCSO said deputies began to interview them while detectives from the sheriff’s office human trafficking squad also responded to the scene.
“This case is a prime example of why the dedicated Human Trafficking Squad is so important,” Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a statement. “They are able to respond to scenes, use their expertise to identify and rescue victims.”
Throughout the detective’s investigation, HCSO said they uncovered disturbing details surrounding the victim’s ordeal.
According to the sheriff’s office, the victim met the suspect, Mark Zillig, 52, on social media three months prior. She then moved from New York to Florida with Zillig, who for months coerced her into engaging in commercial sex acts.
HCSO said the 52-year-old facilitated these activities by setting up escort advertisements and communicating with sex buyers. Zillig even took the victim to her “appointments.” The sheriff’s office said he “systematically groomed the victim” and told her what to say to sex buyers to “ensure further encounters.”
After the sexual encounters, the sheriff’s office said the victim was coerced into handing over half of her earnings to Zilling, adding that she was exploited and was even coerced into getting a tattoo as a “symbol of her loyalty” to the 52-year-old.
HCSO said the victim summoned the courage and contacted law enforcement, expressing her desire to escape.
Throughout the investigation, deputies found probable cause was established to charge Zilling with coercing for commercial sex act by human trafficking, deriving support from proceeds of prostitution, transporting for prostitution, and forcing another to become a prostitute.
The sheriff’s office said Zillig is a convicted felon with a “lengthy criminal history,” including grand larceny, assault and drug-related charges.
“I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the brave victim for her courage in coming forward and placing her trust in our deputies,” Chronister said. “I’d also wish to acknowledge the invaluable assistance provided by Selah Freedom, who worked closely with our detectives and provided essential resources to support the victim in her journey to recovery. Our commitment to combating human trafficking and ensuring the safety and well-being of our community remains stronger than ever.”
Anyone with information about human trafficking or those in need of assistance is asked to contact the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office immediately at 813-247-8200.