(As originally published with additional photos of highlighted suspects, Tue, February 15th 2022, 11:16 AM EST)
TAMPA, Fla. (CBS12) — One teenage victim of human trafficking is safe, and a potential victim has also been rescued, after a three-month undercover investigation fighting the online solicitation of minors.
Operation Wanderlust, in the Tampa area, even ended with the arrest of a man from Boca Raton.
Deputies with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office made more than 300 contacts and arrested 18 people, half of whom are accused of traveling to meet underage victims.
The investigation started in November. Undercover detectives in the Human Trafficking Section posed online as minors.
They took part in online discussions in which “the suspects solicited sexual acts from detectives posing as teens, sent inappropriate pictures, and agreed to drive to Hillsborough County in order to meet their potential victims for sex. The suspects came from all over Tampa Bay, and one even drove from Boca Raton to solicit a minor.”
That suspect is John Getejanc, 64.
“The demand for commercial sex is really what is fueling this and it’s really endangering kids on and offline, specifically kids who are already vulnerable,” said Caitlen Macias. “Just like there are dangers in the world, there are dangers online.”
Macias is the Chair of Worth Without Exploitation Youth Coalition, a nationwide organization working closely with survivors to raise awareness about human trafficking.
“Groomers, pimps, traffickers are using Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and all of these different platforms to solicit minors, get their information, and groom them for commercial sex,” Macias said. “People that are vulnerable, that need financial support, maybe they need love, maybe they come from a broken home, they’re going to fall prey to this and they’re actually going to be like maybe this is something that can be a great opportunity for me.”
“These suspects came from all walks of life, including Derrick McLaughlin, the principal of an elementary school in Hillsborough County,” Sheriff Chad Chronister said.
“Another suspect, Robin Varghese, is known to be affiliated to his father’s church, Bethel of Brandon Pentecostal Church. No matter what these suspects did for a living, they sought to take advantage of a young person in our area, which is unacceptable.”
The suspects face a range of charges including attempted lewd or lascivious battery, traveling to meet a minor after using computer services/devices to solicit certain illegal acts, use of computer services or devices to solicit certain illegal acts, transmission of harmful material to a minor, and unlawful use of a two-way communications device.
The sheriff’s office says one — Eduardo Antonio Iglesias Amaya — was arrested twice in the operation. He was also charged with 18 counts of child porn after a search warrant led investigators to the disturbing material on his phone.
Detectives were able to find and rescue two 15-year-old girls. “One had a history of falling prey to commercial sex trafficking, and another was in the process of being groomed by a 41-year-old man to take part in his rape (BDSM) fantasies,” according to the sheriff’s office.
Investigators said Arthur Vos contacted the teen using social media and on her phone. Luckily, her father found the communication, called the sheriff’s office, and the Human Trafficking Section took over the investigation. When Vos agreed to meet the girl, detectives arrested him in his vehicle and found a firearm, leather paddle and condom.
“We are thankful that these men encountered our detectives online instead of a real child,” Sheriff Chronister said.
Anyone with information on the suspects, or feel they have been victimized, should call the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office at 813-247-8200.