Florida Teacher, Disney Employees Arrested in Major Human Trafficking Bust
A high school teacher and three Disney employees were among those arrested by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office during a massive human trafficking bust, authorities announced Thursday.
The weeklong sting operation earlier this month resulted in 219 arrests and nearly 300 felony and misdemeanor charges. At least 35 suspects were identified as being in the country illegally, including the two ringleaders of the operation, who have been charged with human trafficking.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd held a press conference Thursday to share the bust’s results, dubbed “Operation Traffic Stop 2.”
“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,” Judd told reporters. “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.”
Police said that Maria Guzman, 36, and Freddy Escalona, 30, were behind the trafficking operation. Escalona, according to police, had forced one woman into prostitution after she was unable to pay him back for a $2,200 loan. Guzman is also accused of trafficking two victims from a hotel in Orlando.
Police also arrested Russel Rogers of Winter Haven, who is accused of negotiating to have sex with a prostitute. Rogers, a father of three, is a teacher at Auburndale High School and the athletic director of the Vanguard School.
“This dude now is coaching in county jail,” Judd said. “I can’t believe we want somebody like this around our children.”
“He came to have sex. We’ve arrested him, he’s in custody and he says ‘Hey dudes, y’all got to hurry up.’
And we go, why? He said ‘it is my wife and daughter, they are arriving at the airport in Orlando, I got to go get them.’
We said, ‘Hey coach, you fumbled that one, because you are going to be in jail.'”
The Polk County School District later said they were “disappointed” to hear the report.
“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,” district officials said. “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.”
Judd also said that Disney employed three suspects while another worked at a Disney hotel.
“This guy has marshmallows for brains,” the Sheriff said about one suspect who spotted police and then watched a man and woman enter the room. When the two did not emerge from the room, Judd said the man went inside, thinking it was his turn.
The three Disney employees were arrested for soliciting prostitutes. According to police, one employee was a training coordinator, another was a security guard, and the third was a custodian.
“What would an op be if we didn’t arrest someone employed by Disney,” Judd said.
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