Teacher, Pastor, Among 125 Arrested In Human Trafficking Sting In Florida


 Joel Velasco, L, Samuel Phillips Jr., R

Photo: Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

Authorities in Florida conducted a massive human trafficking sting that netted 125 arrests. Among those who were taken into custody during the 20-day operation, named "Operation Round-Up," were a teacher and a pastor.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said that Joel Velasco was a teacher at an unidentified school in the county. He is accused of offering to pay $60 for sex to an undercover detective.

Hillsborough County Schools issued a statement following news of his arrest.

"He was never in front of students this year as this arrest occurred prior to the start of the school year. He resigned and is not a teacher in our district," the district said in a statement. "We are shocked and deeply troubled by the allegations."

Chronister also identified one of the suspects as Samuel Philips Jr., who is a pastor at Be Limitless Church in Riverview, Florida. He is accused of responding to a false ad on an escort website and offering to pay an undercover police officer for sex.

Both men were charged with soliciting another to commit prostitution.

Authorities said that the human trafficking sting also resulted in the rescue of four women and one teenager. Chronister said that the department will continue to conduct operations to stop human trafficking.

"To still see these types of numbers, to still see the number of women we are rescuing, I knew we had to have a full-time squad," he said. "We will continue this until we eradicate human trafficking in Hillsborough County."


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