WINTER HAVEN, FL – In a shocking turn of events, a high school teacher and coach, along with three Disney employees, were among more than 200 individuals arrested in a week-long, undercover operation focused on combating human trafficking in Polk County, Florida.
Human Trafficking Operation Details
According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, a total of 83 suspects were apprehended for soliciting a prostitute and negotiating sexual encounters in exchange for money at an undercover location. Additionally, 17 suspects were arrested for either deriving proceeds from prostitution or aiding and abetting prostitutes, while eight individuals were charged with driving the prostitutes to the undercover operation site. Sheriff Grady Judd revealed that out of the 119 prostitutes apprehended, 21 were identified as potential human trafficking victims.
Polk County High School Teacher and Coach Arrested For Sex Trafficking
Among those arrested was Russell Rogers, an athletic director at Vanguard School located at 22000 US Hwy 27, Lake Wales, FL 33859. Rogers was also a teacher at Auburndale High School REAL Academy located at 300 E Bridgers Ave, Auburndale, FL 33823. Rogers, who is married with three children, was charged with undisclosed offenses. Sheriff Judd expressed disbelief and concern, stating, “This dude now is coaching in the county jail. I can’t believe we want somebody like this around our children.”
Real Academy at Auburndale High School is an alternative school program designed to support students who may be falling behind academically or facing other challenges. Due to their vulnerability, struggling students may be at a higher risk of falling prey to grooming tactics, making it crucial for educational institutions to prioritize their safety and well-being.
Polk County Schools’ Response and Employment Termination
Following Russell Rogers’ arrest, Polk County Schools expressed disappointment and emphasized that such behavior is unacceptable within the school system. While the charges do not involve students and Rogers was not on duty as a teacher at the time, the district asserted that educators are held to a higher standard both inside and outside the classroom. Consequently, the school district has initiated the process of terminating Rogers’ employment.
Illegal Human Trafficking Charges
Of particular note, two individuals, Maria Guzman and Freddy Escalona, both found to be in the country illegally, face felony charges related to human trafficking. Sheriff Judd emphasized that it was surprising to see a female suspect facing such charges, highlighting that Guzman was responsible for setting appointments and exploiting two young women, taking a significant portion (60-70 percent) of their earnings.
Methods of Operation To Catch Sexual Predators
According to Sheriff Judd, Guzman had reportedly used online platforms to lure victims, posing as someone seeking individuals for construction work. However, her true intentions were to engage in commercial sexual activities. Similarly, Freddy Escalona, another illegal immigrant, had allegedly forced a woman into prostitution after lending her money, subsequently profiting from her exploitation.
Involvement of Minors
Disturbingly, the investigation uncovered cases involving minors. Sheriff Judd mentioned that two women arrived in Polk County with a 14-month-old child to engage in sexual activities. The child was promptly placed in the care of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and entrusted to a family member. In another instance, a man left his one-year-old daughter home alone while he traveled to Polk County for sex, claiming that the family dog would watch over her. Similarly, the child was handed over to DCF, and authorities ensured the dog’s well-being.
Other Arrests and Charges During Sex Trafficking Operation
In addition to the teacher’s arrest, three Disney employees and an individual employed at a Disney hotel were also apprehended in the operation. Furthermore, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of a retirement center in California was arrested and reportedly claimed that cheating on one’s spouse is not illegal. However, Sheriff Judd reminded him that paying prostitutes for sex is unlawful in the state of Florida.
Sex Trafficking Investigation Outcomes
Throughout the course of the investigation, detectives filed a total of 44 felony charges and 242 misdemeanor charges against the suspects, shedding light on the widespread nature of the illegal activities uncovered. As the shocking details of this undercover human trafficking operation continue to unfold, law enforcement and local authorities remain committed to combating this heinous crime and bringing those responsible to justice.
Sex Trafficking Attorney Pursuing Justice for Survivors
Following the major human trafficking operation that led to the arrest of a high school teacher, the imperative to secure justice for the survivors becomes paramount. In this interview, Florida sex trafficking attorney Michael Haggard, Esq., offers invaluable insights into the possibility of pursuing civil cases against the perpetrators and details the importance of seeking legal justice. Join us as we discover the avenues for support and compensation available to survivors and join the ongoing fight against the heinous crime of human trafficking.
Laurence Banville (LB): Thank you for joining us, Mr. Haggard.
Michael Haggard, Esq. (MH): Thank you, Laurence. It’s a pleasure to be here.
LB: Given the recent news of arrests in the Polk County human trafficking operation, I wanted to discuss the legal recourse available to survivors of trafficking. What can survivors do if they wish to file a civil case against those accountable?
MH: That’s an important question, Laurence. Survivors of trafficking have the option to seek justice through civil litigation. It’s crucial to remember that the criminal justice system prosecutes the perpetrators, but civil cases focus on holding those accountable financially and providing compensation to the survivors.
LB: Could you elaborate on the process of filing a civil case for survivors of trafficking?
MH: Certainly. The first step is to consult with an experienced sex trafficking attorney who specializes in this area of law. They can guide survivors through the legal process, ensuring their rights are protected. The attorney will investigate the case, gather evidence, and identify responsible parties, which could include traffickers, facilitators, or even negligent third parties.
LB: Can you explain how compensation works in these civil cases?
MH: Absolutely. In civil cases, survivors can seek various forms of compensation, including monetary damages for physical and emotional injuries, medical expenses, therapy costs, lost wages, and even punitive damages to punish the defendants. The objective is to help survivors rebuild their lives and provide some measure of justice for the harm they have endured.
LB: It sounds like a complex and challenging process. What kind of support is available to survivors during this legal journey?
MH: Survivors of trafficking are not alone in this fight. There are organizations, support groups, and legal advocates dedicated to assisting them throughout the process. These resources can provide emotional support, access to counseling services, and help survivors navigate the legal system with compassion and understanding.
LB: That’s reassuring to hear. In your experience, how impactful can civil cases be in combatting human trafficking?
MH: Civil cases play a vital role in the fight against human trafficking. By holding individuals and organizations accountable in the civil courts, we put a spotlight on the issue, raise awareness, and send a clear message that such behavior will not be tolerated. Additionally, the financial consequences can cripple traffickers and serve as a deterrent for others who might consider engaging in these horrific crimes.
LB: Thank you, Mr. Haggard. Your expertise is invaluable in understanding the legal aspect of this ongoing battle.
MH: It’s been my pleasure, Laurence. I hope this information empowers survivors and encourages them to seek justice through every available avenue.
Your Voice Matters: Contact Us For a Free Consultation
Given the complex legal challenges that survivors of trafficking encounter, seeking guidance from a skilled and experienced attorney is critical. If you or someone you know is a survivor of trafficking and in need of legal assistance, we are here to help. Our team of compassionate attorneys is dedicated to supporting survivors and fighting for their rights. Contact us today for a free consultation, and let us provide you with the guidance and support you deserve on your path to justice and healing.
Mr. Banville is a personal injury attorney who has experience in handling auto accidents, work injuries, medical malpractice, dog bites, slip and falls, and representing survivors and victims of sexual abuse. Mr. Banville is affiliated with law firms in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, D.C., and Maryland. Abuse Guardian