Disney Employees, Illegal Immigrants Among Large-Scale Human Trafficking Operation in Florida: 219 Arrests

Originally published September 29, 2023 6:30 am PDT

In a concerted effort to combat human trafficking, a joint operation in Polk County, Florida has resulted in the arrest of 219 individuals, uncovering a number of victims and shedding light on the pervasive issue of human exploitation.

Among those apprehended were several people residing in the United States illegally, a high school teacher, three Disney employees, as well as a Disney hotel worker.

Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County disclosed the outcomes of this extensive operation, revealing that out of the 119 detained prostitutes, 21 were identified as potential victims of human trafficking, according to Fox News.

He stated, “Not only did we arrest more suspects during this single operation than we have ever arrested before, we identified 21 human trafficking victims; during a similar operation in February, we identified 24 victims.”

He emphasized the invaluable collaboration with social service organizations that assisted in emancipating these women from such an exploitative environment.

Among those charged with human trafficking are Freddy Escalona, 30, and Maria Guzman, 36, both residing in the country unlawfully.

Escalona allegedly coerced a victim into prostitution after she failed to repay a debt.

Upon his arrest, he informed detectives of multiple women who compensated him for transportation and protection.

Guzman is accused of orchestrating and profiting from the trafficking of two victims from an Orlando hotel.

Judd’s announcement detailed that 83 suspects were apprehended for soliciting prostitution and 17 other suspects were detained for ancillary offenses related to prostitution.

Throughout this operation, the investigators levied 44 felonies and 242 misdemeanors.

Notably, 35 of those detained are suspected to be in the U.S. illegally, hailing from various countries including Cuba, Chile, Venezuela, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, and the Bahamas.

Among the arrested individuals is Russell Rogers from Winter Haven, an athletic director at Vanguard School and a teacher at Auburndale High School REAL Academy.

Judd noted, “This dude now is coaching in the county jail,” emphasizing the incongruity of having such individuals around children.

The details highlighted by Sheriff Judd illustrate the varied backgrounds of those implicated, ranging from a 76-year-old individual to an 18-year-old, with some leaving their families and responsibilities behind to participate in illicit activities.

Polk County Schools have expressed their dismay over the incident and are progressing with the termination of Rogers’ employment.

District officials emphasized the ethical obligations of educators, stating, “Part of being an educator is understanding that you are held to a higher standard for your actions in the classroom, as well as the community.”