The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has rescued a victim of human trafficking, and another potential victim, from falling into the dangerous life of sex trafficking.
Over the course of three months, detectives went undercover to fight the solicitation of minors online. In total, deputies made more than 300 contacts and arrested 18 people, half of which are accused of traveling to meet underage victims.
The investigation, named Operation Wanderlust, began in November 2021, with undercover detectives in the Human Trafficking Section posing online as minors. During the online discussions, 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.
The individuals are facing 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.
“These suspects came from all walks of life, including Derrick McLaughlin, the principal of an elementary school in Hillsborough County,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister. “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. We are thankful that these men encountered our detectives online instead of a real child."
Eduardo Antonio Iglesias Amaya was arrested twice during the course of the operation. He was additionally charged with 18 counts of child porn after a search warrant led investigators to the disturbing material on his phone.
During the operation, detectives were able to locate 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.
Arthur Vos contacted the teen using social media and on her phone. When the girl's father found the communication, he contacted HCSO and the Human Trafficking Section took over the investigation. After Vos agreed to travel to meet the girl, detectives moved in and arrested him in his vehicle. Detectives found a firearm, leather paddle and condom.
“The HCSO Human Trafficking Squad works diligently to save our children from becoming victims to sexual predators that use technology to hunt in the shadows of the internet,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister. "Through operations like Wanderlust, we are constantly taking a proactive approach to finding these predators, and our efforts will not stop."
Anyone with information regarding any of the suspects arrested throughout Operation Wanderlust, or anyone who may feel they have been victimized, should call the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office at 813-247-8200.