HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Six men in Hillsborough County are accused of exploiting drug addiction to force women into prostitution.
The suspects, dubbed “The Sinful Six,” were arrested after a three-month-long investigation that started with a traffic stop in January.
Deputies said they encountered a man and a woman in a stolen car back in January and had learned the woman was a victim of human trafficking. Both the man and the woman were arrested for grand theft auto.
The woman was interviewed and led detectives to more victims and a group of men known as “The Sinful Six.”
Deputies said the men would post photos of their victims online and advertise them for sex.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister says the men used drugs to get the women hooked and then forced them to have sex with other men to pay off their drug debt.
“Detectives identified a common connection among the victims. They all suffered from drug addiction,” said Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister. “The Sinful Six involved in this organized human trafficking ring took absolute advantage of the victims’ dependence on illicit drugs. By supplying them with heroin and methamphetamines in such large quantities, they became what is known as dope sick.”
Chronister defined “dope sick” as a term used to describe someone who has become so dependent on drugs that they become physically sick when they are not high.
Chronister said the men would monitor their victims’ drug use and force them to engage in sex acts if they didn’t have enough money to fund their addiction.
“If they had a woman who wasn’t generating enough income or profit for them, they would trade that female amongst them to try and maximize their profits,” said Chronister.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, a former prosecutor, and judge in Hillsborough County says prosecuting cases like this is difficult because the victims often don’t want to testify.
“Victims often blame themselves. They often believe that they were in love with their trafficker or that their trafficker has kept them safe, although they have been beaten and abused and addicted to drugs,” said Moody.
An advocate helping the victims says they are often recruited through a variety of online apps.
“We had a victim that fell into a predator’s hands by an online dating app that had very horrible, horrible consequences,” said Misty LaPerriere with Selah Freedom.
LaPerriere say some children are even recruited through the chat features of online games.
“An example would be like Fortnite, so sometimes recruiters have jumped on the chats with kids, offering them a better life a better understanding of what they are going through as opposed to their parents,” said LaPerriere.
Chronister said Bradford Pugh, 43, served as the ringleader of the operation, managing ads for some of the victims. He said Pugh would drive the victims to meet men at hotel rooms, which he paid for.
Pugh was arrested for coerce sex act by human trafficking, RICO violation, RICO conspiracy or endeavor.
Scott Collins, 39, was arrested for coerce sex act by human trafficking, RICO violation, RICO conspiracy or endeavor, possession of cocaine, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Jeryme Hunter, 46, was arrested for coerce sex act by human trafficking, RICO violation, RICO conspiracy or endeavor.
Michael Johnson Lee, 40, was arrested for coerce sex act by human trafficking, RICO violation, RICO conspiracy or endeavor.
David Marty, 40, was arrested for coerce sex act by human trafficking, RICO violation, RICO conspiracy or endeavor and possession of a controlled substance.
Jeremy Montalvo, 27, was arrested for coerce sex act by human trafficking, RICO violation, RICO conspiracy or endeavor.
Deputies were able to rescue five of the victims and said they were offered support services such as drug treatment and housing.
Chronister said detectives believe there are more suspects involved in the operation and more victims as well.
Anyone who is a victim of human trafficking or anyone who believes they know someone who could be a victim is urged to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
- Medical examiner: Capitol officer died of natural causes
- ‘He always shows up for us so we show up for him’: Mike Evans attends Arians Family Foundation event
- Firefighter dies working his first shift on duty
- Red tide: Tampa Bay lawmakers want to keep studying blooms even during government shutdowns
- Deputies: St. Petersburg woman accused of choking, biting Uber driver