What is 'Operation Stolen Innocence'? Florida police make 178 arrests in massive child sex trafficking probe
The long list of the people charged includes a grade school physical education teacher and a high profile booster for Florida State University
TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA: An astonishing 178 people have been arrested by the Tallahassee Police Department following a two-year investigation on the horrific sexual exploitation of a teenage girl in 2018. The minor girl was allegedly sold online for "one night stands" with customers.
On Tuesday, November 17, TPD Chief Lawrence Revell along with state and federal officials announced the results of Operation Stolen Innocence, a highly secretive investigation into the commercial sex trafficking of the girl, who was 13 and 14 when the alleged offenses took place. The investigation, which police officials declined to even acknowledge for months, was likely the biggest of its kind in Tallahassee history, Revell said.
Out of the 178 people, more than 100 were charged with felonies, including human trafficking, lewd and lascivious battery on a child aged under 16 and production and possession of child pornography. The remaining 72 were arrested on charges of solicitation of prostitution. The long list of the people charged includes a grade school physical education teacher, Brian Winsett, and a high-profile booster for Florida State University, Jermaine Miller, according to a report by Tallahassee Democrat.
The investigation started in 2018 when the police department learned about the pictures of a child posted online on an unknown website known for advertising prostitution. "The sheer number. The all-day, everyday, all-the-time solicitation and sexual activity and talk about cash for money and clearly meeting. I had never seen something just that prolific," Tallahassee Police Department Investigator Elizabeth Bascom, who first uncovered the victim being sold online, said.
"When you can go online and order a pizza and a girl at the same time, and the girl shows up to your door before the pizza, our society is in trouble. OK, that’s where we are. It is unbelievably accessible," she further said, labeling the abuse "horrific."
Even though the investigators have not revealed the victim's mother's involvement in the case, a report by the Tallahassee Democrat suggests that defendants of the case have told the police that she wouldn't allow anyone to have sex with her daughter until and unless they brought money or drugs in return for the "sexual" activity.
Some defendants have also stated that the "activity" took place in a filthy apartment or in low-grade motels across the town. Several women were charged in the case for arranging customers for the girl in exchange for cash.
The alleged "encounters" were arranged over Facebook messages and other social media apps that took investigators months to track down. Doug Russell, the former chairman of the Seminole Boosters Inc, a fundraising branch for Florida State University Athletics, was arrested in September 2019 during the investigation and was charged with solicitation of prostitution in the case, the Tallahassee Democrat reported last year.
According to the report, he responded to an ad for sex and was told an amount, but it's not clear if he ever went through with the visit. Jermaine Miller is another suspect in the case. He was an official write-in candidate for the Tallahassee City Commission. One of the suspects is 51-year-old gym teacher Brian Winsett, who taught at Woodville PK-8 School and was arrested in July for sex crimes with a 13-year-old girl.
State Attorney’s Office Felony Chief Lorena Vollrath-Bueno shared shocking details about sex trafficking in the United States of America claiming that approximately 50,000 people are trafficked in the country every year and the human trafficking industry is worth roughly $150billion worldwide.
Investigators urge victims of sex trafficking and people who are aware of victims to speak out. People can report information to the Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 1-888-373-7888