The score was 104-0.
“What you’re seeing here is not a star basketball team,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said during a press conference Tuesday. “These are a lot of losers, and they’re losers in the sense that they were trying to take advantage of people and take advantage of the law and they all ended up fouled out.”
With a flair for basketball puns and flashy visuals, Sheriff Judd announced the results of an undercover prostitution sting investigation called “Operation March Sadness.”
Law enforcement officers would post advertisements on BackPage, the website that functions much like Craigslist but is notorious for prostitution and human trafficking. The site took off its personals section, but officers were still able to post similar ads to the dating section.
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Over six days, 104 people ranging from ages 20 to 63 were arrested. Thirty-eight were prostitutes; 51 were “johns.” Fourteen were arrested on other charges. And one man — whose arrest Sheriff Judd called a “slam dunk” — was arrested for traveling to meet with a minor.
The priority of the mission, Sheriff Judd said, was to look for victims of human trafficking. None of the prostitutes arrested would say they were victims, but sex-trafficking victim advocate group The Porch Light evaluated some and the signs were there, he said.
One by one, Sheriff Judd held up photos of some of the arrestees. One woman left her 7-year-old child in the car while she “turned tricks.” A man was wearing a black T-shirt printed with a list of choices: “Clinton,” “Trump,” “Strippers.” The latter choice had a big check mark next to it. A few had been in the military, Sheriff Judd said.
Sheriff Judd’s crown jewel was Dirk Watson, a captain in the U.S. Air Force based in Cape Canaveral. His family — including his parents, his wife and their two children — was at Disney, but he told his wife that he was too sick to go. He was charged with four felonies for preying on a 14-year-old.
“He said the most awful things you can ever imagine,” Sheriff Judd said.
In total, 37 felony charges and 128 misdemeanor charges were given.