POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A Polk County school athletic director and coach was among more than 200 people arrested in a human trafficking-focused operation, according to the sheriff’s office.
Polk County deputies said 219 arrests were made during the seven-day-long undercover operation.
“This is the single largest operation of its kind in the history of the sheriff’s office,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.
During the operation, 21 possible human trafficking victims were identified of the 119 prostitutes who were arrested.
Two suspects, Freddy Escalona, of Chicago, and Maria Guzman, of Orlando, were charged with human trafficking, the sheriff’s office said.
Deputies said Guzman trafficked two victims from a hotel in Orlando. They said she set up their “dates” and profited from the money they made.
Escalona loaned a victim money to fix her car and made her prostitute herself to pay back the money, investigators said. He drove the victim to an undercover location and was taken into custody.
Escalona told detectives that he had “several females that he worked” who paid him to transport them and “keep them safe.”
Sheriff Grady Judd said deputies are investigating two more suspects who could be charged with human trafficking.
Russell Rogers, a school athletic director and coach who worked at Van Guard School in Lake Wales and Auburndale High School, was arrested for soliciting a prostitute, the sheriff’s office said.
The Polk County Public Schools released the following statement about Rogers’ arrest:
“We’re disappointed to learn that one of our employees was engaging in this kind of behavior. Part of being an educator is understanding that you are held to a higher standard for your actions in the classroom, as well as the community. These charges don’t involve students, and Rogers was not on duty as a teacher, but this kind of conduct still has no place in our school system.”
The school district said Rogers was first hired in April 2013. He has worked for Real Academy since 2017 and serves at the Auburndale campus.
PCPS said it is in the process of terminating Rogers’ employment with the school district.
Rogers was also part-time athletic director at The Vanguard School in Lake Wales.
“We are aware of the arrest and, while we have no ability to assess the accuracy of the charges, given the nature of the charges the individual arrested are no longer employed here,” said L. Shannon Graves, head of The Vanguard School.
Judd said three Disney World employees were also arrested in the operation. Another man who worked at the Swan Hotel on Disney property was arrested for prostitution, Judd said.
In total, Polk County deputies said there were 83 suspects arrested for soliciting a prostitute and traveling to the undercover location to negotiate to have sex in exchange for money; 17 other suspects were arrested, and of those, 5 were either deriving proceeds from prostitution or aiding and abetting prostitutes, and 8 drove the prostitutes to the undercover location.
“Not only did we arrest more suspects during this single operation than we have ever arrested before, we identified 21 human trafficking victims; during a similar operation in February, we identified 24 victims. That’s 45 victims we were able to identify this year. The valuable relationships that we have with the social services organizations who join us in these operations make it possible for these women to get help and be emancipated from this way of life,” Judd said.