Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters speaks at a news conference announcing the results of "Operation: Hot Summer."Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters speaks at a news conference announcing the results of "Operation: Hot Summer."
Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters speaks at a news conference announcing the results of "Operation: Hot Summer." | Dan Scanlan, WJCT News 89.9

Two sex trafficking victims rescued and 26 suspects arrested

Published on August 7, 2023 at 5:32 pm

Twenty-four men and women were arrested in Nassau County on multiple charges of prostitution or soliciting for sex as part of a regional initiative to find human trafficking victims.

The operation, called “Operation: Hot Summer,” also led to the recovery of two missing children, while two other men were arrested on charges of soliciting a child for sex, according to police.

Jacksonville Today thanks our sponsors. Become one.

The arrests were part of an annual nationwide effort to combat the sexual trafficking of children and women. The Jacksonville and Nassau County sheriff’s offices joined the FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service in the operation.

Nationwide, “Operation Cross Country” grew out of a 2003 FBI initiative that identified and recovered sexually exploited minors and has expanded into a coordinated operation involving federal, state and local agencies across the country.

“These operations, spearheaded nationally by the FBI, are mission-driven to rescue trafficked juveniles and women and to build cases against those who profit from the misery of human trafficking,” Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters said at a news conference. He called it a very real “web of crime” in this community.

Article continues below

Jacksonville Today thanks our sponsors. Become one.

“While many trafficked women were identified, none of them are juveniles,” Waters said. “However, outside the two-day local operation but within the framework of the national operation, a teenage trafficking victim was rescued.”

The 24 men and women, ranging in age from 23 to 53, were arrested for either engaging in prostitution or soliciting sex from a woman, Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said.

“This gives us an opportunity to get them out of that trade, to rescue them from that, especially if we can find them when they are still juveniles. In this operation we did rescue one adult female who was being sex trafficked,” Leeper said, then he held up his hand to demonstrate what happened to one woman.

As Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters watches, Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper demonstrates that the fingerprints of one woman arrested in Operation: Hot Summer were burned off by her pimp. | Dan Scanlan WJCT News 89.9

“Her pimp actually burned her fingerprints off to make it harder for her to be identified, especially if she ends up dead somewhere in a ditch,” Leeper said. “The thing to remember is that these are not victimless crimes. Human trafficking and prostitution ruin the lives of everyone involved. … The johns and buyers need to know we are going after them with other operations. We find you, we lock you up.”

Two men face felony charges in Jacksonville after they traveled to locations to have sex with children, unaware that the rendezvous they had set up online was with undercover detectives and not teens, Waters said.

Leeper displayed photos of some of the people arrested for solicitation or prostitution, as well as some drug charges. Suspects came from Nassau County, Jacksonville, Orange Park, Lake City and parts of Georgia.

One was a 45-year-old Yulee man who told his arresting officer that he was a former Georgia police officer who “just gathering intel so he could notify law enforcement,” Leeper said. And a 23-year-old Jacksonville woman who was also a licenced practical nurse told her arresting officer that this was “her very first time doing this,” Leeper said.

“She said she was talked into it by a friend who said she could make some quick cash,” Leeper said. “I wonder if they are still friends?”

During the the nationwide Operation Cross Country last month, the FBI and its partners identified and located 200 victims of sex trafficking and also found 59 actively missing children. In 2022’s Operation Cross Country, 141 adult victims of human trafficking, 84 minor victims of child sex trafficking and 37 missing children were found, the FBI said.


author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.
author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.