Hillsborough County Undercover Human Trafficking Sting Arrests a Former Schoolteacher and Local Pastor

Joe Duncan

Local Pastor and Schoolteacher arrested after a sex trafficking sting dubbed "Operation Round-Up" was carried out by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department.

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Samuel Phillips Jr, Pastor of Be Limitless ChurchHillsborough County Sheriff's Dept.

A recent sting that landed 125 people in jail for human trafficking, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Deputies cleaned house in what they dubbed "Operation Round-Up."

The goal was a little bit like an episode of To Catch a Predator, where undercover investigators went fishing for criminals suspected of looking for underage victims for erotic activities. Whether those activities were for the individuals themselves or for the purposes of illicit trafficking is irrelevant, the Deputies were out to catch vicious predators of the human variety.

Good for them.

I'm glad the Hillsborough County Sheriff is taking human trafficking seriously in the state.

The sting took a total of 20 days and, just like the show, To Catch a Predator, the Deputies sometimes pretended to be underage people, sparking up conversations with the suspects in the hopes that the suspects would try to steer the conversation down a path it shouldn't go.

Under no circumstances should adults be trying to steer a conversation with children in an erotic, adult direction.

Doing so is a crime.

Even worse, it's a felony.

So, it was interesting when the suspects were eventually rounded up and the County Sheriff's office learned that, among them, were a former schoolteacher and a local pastor.

Joel Velasco was a former teacher in Hillsborough County Public Schools, while Samuel Phillips Jr. was the pastor at the Be Limitless Church. Something about terms like "limitless," "growth," and "prosperity" automatically ticks off the box in my brain that tells me a church is suspect.

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Arrest photos of two of the men accused of human traffickingHillsborough County Sheriff's Dept.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister spoke in a press conference on October 18th, explaining that both of those arrested had offered the undercover detectives, who were posing as minors, money in exchange for erotic favors.

Sheriff Chad Chronister said:

"These men who were all held to a standard of trust and respect were all arrested for soliciting another to commit prostitution."

This is a true travesty for the state of Florida, a state that's continually struggled with a human trafficking problem.

According to Voices for Florida, an organization that combats human trafficking in the state, Florida ranks third in the nation in the world of trafficking. It's a serious problem here and one that law enforcement needs serious resources to combat.

The Florida Health Department has resources available discussing what all of us, you and I, can do to help combat human trafficking here in our beautiful Sunshine State.

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