PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Four people were arrested following a human trafficking sting out of Pasco County, multiple agencies announced during a press conference Thursday.
According to officials, the investigation, which involved the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, began after a 16-year-old Tampa Bay survivor of human trafficking shared her experiences with a victim advocate. Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said the girl had met several men on dating sites in Dec. 2022, including 44-year-old Randy Coffelt Jr.
The two began chatting online, and the girl talked to Coffelt frequently and believed they were in a relationship. As time went on, the two began to communicate through text messages.
“We can never live in a society where pedophilia is normal. These young kids have no idea they’re being manipulated,” Sheriff Nocco said.
The girl was 15 years old at the time. When she told him her age, Coffelt said he “liked young girls,” authorities said.
The sheriff’s office said the two continued talking and Coffelt “expressed that he wanted the survivor to have sex with other men and that he wanted them to record it.” The 44-year-old also said he wanted the recordings to be sent to him.
The girl agreed because she “felt it would please Coffelt.” Then, in March 2023, Coffelt created an account on the website, “Adult Friend Finder.” While on the site, he made arrangements with three men to meet with the girl and engage in sexual conduct.
Police said all three encounters were similar – Coffelt provided the men with the girl’s contact information, each man picked her up from her home, engaged in sexual conduct while filming or trying to film her, and sent the videos back to Coffelt.
Deputies learned Coffelt arranged for these three men: Branden Sarno, 33, of Port Richey, Sidney Smith, 68, of Holiday and John Kehinde, 29, of New Port Richey, to meet the girl. Authorities believe the men provided drugs and vapes to the teen during their encounters.
PSO added that Coffelt has a history of domestic violence and Sarno is a convicted felon and was previously arrested in 2013 during a joint human trafficking operation conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Department of Homeland Security.
Neither Smith nor Kehinde has a significant criminal history. Since Coffelt resided in Middleburg, Florida, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office was called to assist with his arrest.
All individuals in this case were charged with several crimes, including human trafficking, use of a child in sexual performance and more.
“This is an incredibly devastating case,” Attorney General Ashley Moody said Thursday. “This young victim who bravely came forward to work with law enforcement officers has no doubt saved young girls from going through this same hell.”
“This suspect was a master groomer in the most reprehensible sense of the term, manipulating and exploiting a vulnerable minor for his own twisted gains. I am grateful to FDLE’s agents and analysts, the investigators at Pasco Sheriff’s Office, and the prosecutors at Attorney General Ashley Moody’s Office of Statewide Prosecution for their work on this case to ensure that his days of preying on our youth are over,” FDLE Commissioner Mark Glass added.
Following the arrests, Sheriff Nocco is urging parents and guardians to be aware of what children are doing online and who they’re speaking to.
Nocco also showed the suspects’ mugshots and urged any additional victims to “have the courage to come forward and report it.”
“It’s not your fault,” Nocco said. “Please have the courage to come forward.”
This remains an active and ongoing investigation. Anyone that may be a victim in this or any human trafficking case should notify law enforcement immediately.
To make a report with PSO, call 727-847-8102, option 7. Anyone with information in this case is urged to call the Pasco Sheriff’s Crime Tips Line at 1-800-706-2488, or report tips online at PascoSheriff.com/tips. Human trafficking can be reported through FDLE’s Human Trafficking Hotline at 855-FLA-SAFE.
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