(NationRise.com) – The bust of a massive human trafficking ring in Florida led to 123 men being arrested, including one who taught children at an elementary school. James Villacorteza, 28, was taken into custody at James Elementary School in Tampa on January 9th. Authorities captured him after posing as a 15-year-old boy soliciting the teacher for acts on the dating app Growlr.
Undercover agents with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that Villacorteza believed he was speaking with a minor when agreeing to the acts. He is facing charges related to soliciting a minor.
Zheng Dong, 39, was also arrested as a repeat human trafficking offender. He faced similar charges in 2022.
Other notable individuals included a basketball coach, a mental health nurse, and someone identified as a worker within a spiritual organization.
The arrests were made as part of Operation New Hope, an effort started by Sheriff Chad Chronister and his department to crack down on human trafficking in Florida’s Tampa Bay area.
The state of Florida began ramping up its fight against human trafficking in September 2022. The state partnered with several agencies and private organizations to identify over 100 human trafficking suspects. The state also hosted a digital summit designed to help train its residents to recognize the signs of human trafficking. It then set up a hotline for people to report potential incidents of trafficking and child abuse.
Jimmie Gardner, the brother of prominent Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, was also arrested in Florida last year for human trafficking and attacking a 16-year-old girl. He had initially invited the girl into his hotel room but got angry when she wouldn’t accept money for intimate time with him. He now faces charges related to abusing a minor and human trafficking.
The US has experienced an increased awareness of human trafficking after last year’s box office success of “Sound of Freedom.” The movie detailed the real-life efforts of Agent Tim Ballard in rescuing children who had been kidnapped for exploitation.
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