104 arrested in Polk Co. prostitution sting

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – It might be March Madness, but in Polk County some unsuspecting criminals got wrapped up in “March Sadness.”

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday announced a major prostitution bust, resulting in the take down of more than a hundred suspects.

“These people are not your star basketball team,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said during a news conference.

“Operation March Sadness,” a six-day-long undercover investigation at the PCSO Sheriff’s Operations Center in Winter Haven (from Tuesday, March 14 through Sunday, March 20) focused on those who advertise prostitution services in online ads and identifying victims of human trafficking.

PCSO undercover detectives, working with the Office of the State Attorney (10th Judicial Circuit, State Attorney Brian Haas), arrested a total of 104 suspects.

Of the 104 suspects arrested:

  • 38 were prostitutes
  • 51 were “Johns,” or those who solicited to pay for prostitution
  • 14 others were arrested for related charges, such as deriving proceeds from prostitution
  • 1 was arrested for traveling to meet a minor
  • 23 told detectives they were married

Detectives seized 2 firearms, and drugs including marijuana, Oxycodone, heroin and cocaine.

Many of the prostitutes traveled to Florida, and told detectives they travel across the country, having sex for money.

Sheriff Judd said one woman left her 7 year old son in the car. “She left her 7 year old child in the car so she could turn tricks,” he said.

The suspects ranged in age from 20 to 63 years old.

One of the suspects, Dirk Watson, is a Captain in the Navy.

He’s accused of leaving his wife and children while at vacation in Disney so he could meet a 14 year old girl for sex.

“He should have gone to the family vacation in Disney. Instead, he has four felonies,” Sheriff Judd said. “He had horrible, graphic communication with a detective that clearly said she was 14. This is a man who has children. He is a Captain with top secret security clearance.”

In all, detectives filed 37 felony charges and 128 misdemeanor charges against the 104 suspects. Among the 104 suspects, there was a total of 191 previous felonies and 288 previous misdemeanor charges in their criminal histories.

Sheriff Judd said this is just a glimpse into the problem. “We could run this on the news tonight and then start again and get another 75 to 100 suspects,” he said.

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