Most of these sting operations involve posting or responding to ads on the "dating" section of the Backpage website found at backpage.com. Many of the sting operations occur at a house in an undisclosed location on the Polk County line in Davenport, FL.
Although many consider "sex workers" to be engaged in the oldest profession, in Polk County, crimes related to prostitution are aggressively investigated and prosecuted. Although these are victimless crimes, law enforcement officers are quick to talk about "human trafficking" even though these cases have nothing to do with human trafficking.
At the Sammis Law Firm, our four attorneys are experienced in asserting the "entrapment defense." The entrapment defense can be asserted anytime law enforcement officers created the crime and entrapped a person to participate when that person was not otherwise predisposed to engage in any prostitution-related crime.
The best results in these cases are getting the charges dropped completely by the prosecutor with the State Attorney's Office in Polk County or dismissed by the judge. If the charges are dropped, dismissed, or reduced to a less serious offense such as "disorderly conduct," then you may qualify to seal or expunge any record of the arrest or prosecution.
Call us at 813-250-0500 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case with one of the experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm. We fight charges related to "soliciting another to commit prostitution" in the criminal courtrooms in County Court in Bartow, FL, and throughout the greater Tampa Bay area.
Recent Prostitution and Solicitation Sting Operation in Polk County, FLAfter a week-long undercover investigation, law enforcement officers in Polk County arrested 277 people for soliciting another person to commit prosecution, offering to commit prosecution, or deriving proceeds from prostitution.
The most recent sting operation was named "Operation No Trick, No Treats" which occurred on or around October 10, 2017, at an "undisclosed" house in Davenport, FL.
The agencies that participated in the prosecution sting ring include:
- the Polk County Sheriff’s Office;
- the Haines City Police Department;
- the Lakeland Police Department;
- the Lake Wales Police Department; and
- the Winter Haven Police Department.
- offer to commit prostitution;
- soliciting a prostitute to commit a lewd act;
- use of a 2 way device in a felony;
- remaining in structure for prostitution; and
- driving proceeds from prostitution.
The police reports in these cases often say:
"Polk County Sheriff's Office Vice Unit began conducting a human trafficking undercover operation by targeting subjects soliciting prostitution online within Polk County, FL. This operation is intended to locate and rescue victims being trafficked or sexually exploited by unknown suspects."
If that were really the goal, the officers could do a much better job by investigating actual crimes. People that are engaged in human trafficking are almost NEVER caught in these elaborate string operations in Polk County.
This stated purpose announced by the sheriff's office in Polk County is NOT true because the "uncover" officers don't pose as victims of sexual exploitation at all. Instead, the undercover officers pose as independent, financially secure, sophisticated, educated, attractive, and responsible adults who enjoy an unexpected sexual encounter with a new acquaintance.
The fact that money exchanges hand is often the last part of the trap and not the real reason the person accused agreed to meet the undercover detective.
Types of Criminal Charges Related to Prostitution Crimes
When prosecution crimes were investigated during this recent Backpage Escort sting operation in Polk County, the following crimes were charged:
- 51 arrests for advertising as prostitutes online;
- 209 arrests for soliciting undercover detectives who posted ads posing as prostitutes; and
- 17 arrests for deriving proceeds from prostitution or other offenses.
In other cases, the undercover detectives responded to profiles and online ads posted by prostitutes. Many of the detectives were targeting transgender people, especially since Backpage now has a "transgender" dating section. The Polk County Sheriff's Office also uses Hispanic and Spanish-speaking undercover officers who pose as prostitutes or johns.
Although Polk County is famous for these sting operations that draw national media attention, many of the people arrested live outside of Polk County or the state of Florida including people vacationing in Orlando.
The Setup of the Sting Operation
In the typical set up for these recent sting operations in Polk County, very attractive undercover detectives posing as a (male or female) (gay or straight) (cisgender or transgender) "john" or "escort" working in an undercover capacity. Traditionally, the female detectives would post fictitious ads online posing as escorts and the male detectives would reply to the escort ads on Backpage. Recent sting operations have focused more on gay, bi-sexual and transgender ads.
Because EVERYONE living in Polk County knows about these string operations, the detectives will often target people living in other parts of the state or people visiting the Orlando area on vacation. As a result, only unsophisticated participants are caught in the trap and actual sex workers and experienced johns known better.
The suspect in these cases will be arrested inside the residence in Polk County, FL, where audio and video recording devices were used to record parts of the investigation. Each suspect is supposed to be read their rights per a Miranda card before a recorded interview is conducted.
In this most recent sting operation for prostitution in Davenport, FL, a total of 31 law enforcement officers and one analyst were involved in the set up including:
- one captain
- one lieutenant
- four sergeants
- twenty-four detectives
- one civilian analyst
This list of participants including two technical services detectives, nine detectives handling and processing evidence and charging documents, four detectives handling take down arrests, two detective working as scribes, four detectives on perimeter surveillance, three detectives handling vehicle impounds, one detective deputy transporting prisoners, one detention deputy sheriff handling suspect book in and one undercover detective for each case.
Entrapment in Soliciting a Prostitute for a Lewd Act
When an unsuspecting "john" replies to a fictitious escort ad, the undercover officers AGGRESSIVELY seeks out a meeting at a nice house in Davenport, FL. The undercover officers will flirt, laugh, engage in small talk, tell stories, and do anything possible to convince the "john" to meet, sometimes during hours of phone calls or text messaging.
Although the "john" might not be predisposed to actual meet, the Polk County Sheriff's Office has become very good at setting this trap and entrapping the most unsophisticated participants. If you ask me, these are not men who usually engage in such behavior because if they had any experience with an actual prostitute, they would immediately know that these scenarios are an obvious undercover police sting operation.
As a result of this wide net being cast, only those people unfamiliar with the sex industry are unlucky enough to participate in meeting the pretty lady that is suddenly showing them a lot of attention.
When the "john" arrives at the string operation in Davenport, FL, he will enter the house. Once inside the residence, the undercover officer will attempt to entrap the suspect into soliciting an engagement in protected sexual intercourse or oral sex in exchange for a specific amount of money.
The police report ALWAYS says that there was an agreement for a specific sex act in exchange for a specific amount of money, but when listening to the tapes over the years, we often discover that no real agreement was ever reached.
Then detectives will enter the room and place the "john" under arrest and bring him to second location where he is interrogated. In this room, the pre-Miranda conversations are rarely recorded. Over the years, we have seen many cases in which the detectives go out of their way to make promises and threats before turning on the recorder.
Post-Miranda, many of these suspects break down and confesses under the pressure. Officers are specifically looking for any type of statements that would interfere with an entrapment defense such as "I've done this before" or "I've thought about doing this before."
Although rarely are those statements enough to defeat an entrapment defense that on this occasion the suspect would not have engaged in the activity "but for" the extra efforts of the undercover detective and team of law enforcement officers that manufacture the crime.
Instead of being issued a notice to appear in court so that the suspect can be released at the scene, the Polk County Sheriff's Office always makes a formal arrest and books the suspect into the jail with a mug shot. The Polk County Sheriff's Office then goes out of its way to drum up as much media attention as possible in these cases.
The news media participates in the shenanigans by pretending that these sting operations are for some purpose other than getting publicity for the Polk County Sheriff, embarrassing the accused, and collecting the $5,000 fine, exaggerated costs of investigation, costs of prosecution, court costs, impound fees (because they always impound the suspect's vehicle) and other related expenses.
Definitions Related to ProstitutionProstitution is defined as the practice or occupation of engaging in sexual activity with someone for payment. One of the preferred terms for sex workers is "call girl" which often refers to a female prostitute who accepts appointments and has a higher income clientele. Other terms considered derogatory in the sex industry include the word "streetwalker," "hooker," "woman of the night," "working girl," "tart," or "harlot."
More and more, sex workers are advertising online on social media sights such as Facebook or online billboards such as Backpage. Many of these sex workers are moving online entirely by using video and other electronic communications although those crimes are rarely prosecuted.
Should prostitution be a crime? We believe the answer is "no." Law enforcement officers have better ways to spend their resources. Unfortunately, in Polk County, the sheriff's officer creates these sting operations which often entrap people into committing crimes that they are not predisposed to commit.
Additional Resources on Prostitution
Recent Press Release for Prostitution Sting Operation in Polk County, FL - Read the press release dated October 17, 2017, from the Polk Sheriff’s Office News Release on “Operation No Tricks, No Treats” Sheriff's Office New Release. The sting operation involving posting and responding to ads on the Backpage website found at backpage.com.
This blog article was last updated on Friday, January 19, 2018.