“Operation March Sadness 2024” (PCSO)

21 Illegal Immigrants Among 228 Arrested In Polk County, Florida, “Operation March Sadness 2024”

“Operation March Sadness 2024” (PCSO)
“Operation March Sadness 2024” (PCSO)

POLK COUNTY, Fla. – During an eight-day undercover human trafficking operation that began on Thursday, February 22, 2024, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Vice Unit arrested 228 suspects for illegal acts such as soliciting prostitutes, offering to commit prostitution, or aiding and abetting prostitutes.

Those who traveled to provide prostitution services were screened by detectives and social services organizations to see if they were being trafficked or exploited by others, and the social services organizations offered them services during the operation.

During this investigation, 13 potential human trafficking victims were identified among the 66 prostitutes arrested, according to investigators.

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There were 150 suspects arrested for soliciting a prostitute and traveling to the undercover location to negotiate to have sex in exchange for money; 12 other suspects were arrested, and of those, eight were either deriving proceeds from prostitution or transporting prostitutes to the undercover location.

During the investigation, detectives charged 70 felonies and 288 misdemeanors. The suspects’ criminal histories included a combined total of 879 felonies and 1,150 misdemeanors.

John's Arrested In Sting (PCSO)
John’s Arrested In Sting (PCSO)
Prostitutes Arrested In Sting (PCSO)
Prostitutes Arrested In Sting (PCSO)
Other Arrests In Sting (PCSO)
Other Arrests In Sting (PCSO)

“This is a new record number of arrests during an investigation of this kind. More importantly, we identified 13 human trafficking victims; during two previous similar operations in February and October 2023, we identified 24 and 21 victims, respectively. That’s 58 victims we were able to identify in one 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,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

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Facts from the operation.

·       21 of the arrested are suspected of being in the country illegally; Those who are here illegally are from Chile, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.
·       41 suspects told detectives they are married.
·       11 suspects told detectives they receive government assistance.
·       44 suspects brought illegal drugs to the location: detectives seized fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, MDMA, hydrocodone, Xanax, methamphetamine, and marijuana.
·       15 suspects brought firearms to the undercover location; 17 firearms total were seized.
·       18 suspects were from other states and Puerto Rico: Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
·       The oldest person arrested is 73 years old while the youngest is 16 years old.

Two brothers, ages 16 and 17 years old, came to the location armed with a BB gun, wearing hoodies and ski masks, and creeping around the undercover location as if they were about to commit an armed robbery of the undercover detective who was posing as a prostitute whom they solicited online.

Omar and Kaleb Najjar (PCSO)
Omar and Kaleb Najjar (PCSO)

Omar and Kalem Najjar were both charged with attempted armed robbery, a felony, as well as loitering/prowling.

“During these types of undercover investigations, I can truly say that we have ‘seen it all’, and yet we are still surprised by some of the violent acts we encounter. These two teenagers were incredibly lucky that they did not brandish a firearm while stalking who they thought was a prostitute at a location filled with law enforcement officers. This could have ended very badly for them. This should also illustrate just how dangerous it is to agree to have sex with someone in exchange for money – there were 13 other suspects who brought firearms to the location,” said Judd.

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