A six-day Polk County Sheriff’s Office undercover sting resulted in the arrests of 124 people for human trafficking and prostitution — including one man who showed up naked.

WINTER HAVEN — A six-day Polk County Sheriff’s Office undercover sting — entitled “Operation Santa’s Naughty List” — resulted in the arrests of 124 people for human trafficking and prostitution.


In a press conference at PCSO headquarters on Wednesday, Sheriff Grady Judd said the primary purpose for such operations is to identify victims of human trafficking and those who prey on victims, as well as “deviant child predators who stalk children online.”


The operation began on Dec. 3 and included local police departments from Lakeland, Haines City, Winter Haven, Bartow and Auburndale.


Judd said the multi-agency operation used internet advertisements to arrange the meetings between undercover detectives and suspects, which took place at an undercover location in Polk County.


Seven women who came to the location to commit prostitution may also be victims of human trafficking, Judd said. Two of those women were taken to shelters and connected with anti-trafficking organizations for assistance and support. Another possible victim, who at first resisted the efforts to offer services, later called detectives and asked for help, he added.


The anti-trafficking organizations included Selah Freedom, One More Child, Heartland for Children and the National Children’s Advocacy Center.


Christa K. Lynn, survivor leader, anti-trafficking advocate and national speaker associated with One More Child, said organization counselors were embedded with law enforcement during the operation in an effort to help identify and assist victims of human trafficking.


Lynn said that in many cases, perhaps even most, those involved in prostitution who become victims of human trafficking had sexual trauma as a child. “We rarely meet one that will say there was no sexual violence as a child,” she said.


“As a community, we ask for your support, to collaborate with us as we collaborate with law enforcement to stop the suffering.”


Judd said that such stings often net criticism from the public, and noted “how else do we find these ladies? We can’t run an ad in your newspaper.”


The criminal justice system, he says, stands ready to help victims — even those who have a record — to make their way out of human trafficking, and much of that record could be wiped out.


Of the 124 arrested, detectives reported that five included men arrested for traveling to the operation with the intent to sexually harm a child, and two other suspects did not travel to the operation but solicited who they thought were children online, according to PCSO reports. They were both charged with felonies for using a computer to seduce or lure a child and use of a two-way device to commit a felony.


Seven of the arrested were from other states, including South Carolina, Missouri, Georgia, Texas, Pennsylvania and New York.


Fifty-three people were arrested for prostitution, a second-degree misdemeanor, and 46 arrested were allegedly seeking the services of a prostitute, a first-degree misdemeanor.


Another 18 were arrested for other charges, including aiding, transporting, or deriving proceeds from prostitution.


Thirty of the 124 arrested were from Polk County. Detectives also reported that they seized cocaine, heroin, Xanax, methamphetamine, hydrocodone, marijuana, marijuana resin and prescription drugs during the investigation.


One man arrived to the undercover operation, the Sheriff said, “butt naked,” noting the man did not even have any socks on. The PCSO shared a video of the man (with his body parts blurred).


Judd noted the seven labeled by law enforcement as “child predators” included:


Anthony Gavin, 33, of Davenport, who thought he was chatting online with a 14-year-old boy when he said, “I don’t wanna be labeled a pedophile.” Detectives report that Gavin brought condoms to the location and when he was arrested, said that he was there “because I’m stupid.”


Pierre Alvarez, 21, of Davenport, believed he was communicating online with a 12-year-old girl, according to his arrest affidavit. He sent nude photos of himself and discussed what he would like to do to the girl. Alvarez rode his bicycle to meet the girl and had a condom in his pocket when he was arrested, according to reports.


Demitrus Gonzalez, 26, of Davenport, allegedly contacted an undercover detective, thinking that he was chatting with a 14-year-old boy. Gonzalez drove to the operation and brought lubricant, condoms and Xanax with him. While he was being arrested, he bit a Lakeland police officer on the hand, Judd said.


Joshua Bryant, 23, of Brandon, thought he was talking to a 14-year-old boy online and sent three nude photos and tried to arrange to pick up the boy. Bryant told the boy to sneak out of the house and that he could hide at Bryant’s house if he was reported missing, according to reports. After arriving at the location, detectives said Bryant got suspicious and collided with an undercover vehicle as he was trying to drive away.


Benjamin Castaneda, 24, of Orlando, made contact with someone he thought was a 13-year-old girl online. Judd said in the texts, Castaneda “wasted no time” telling the undercover detective what he wanted to do with the girl. He drove to the location, arriving less than two hours after making initial contact and was arrested, according to reports.


Matthew Minardi, 22, of Palm Harbor, allegedly began a sexually explicit conversation via social media with who he thought were two different 13-year-old girls, but both were actually undercover detectives. Minardi also sent a nude image of himself. He did not travel to the operation location, but was located and arrested by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.


William Stemmermann, 53, of Kissimmee, chatted with and called an undercover detective, thinking she was a 13-year-old girl, detectives said. He allegedly attempted to arrange to meet and requested photos to be sent to him. Stemmermann did not travel to the operation location, but was located and arrested in Kissimmee.


Judd said some interesting notes from the operation included that 30 of those arrested said they were married. One was engaged to be married.


Those arrested racked up a total of 78 felonies and 148 misdemeanors.


Criminal histories of all arrested included 443 previous felonies and 571 previous misdemeanors, some of which included prior charges for kidnapping, robbery, aggravated battery and sex offenses, according to reports.


The chiefs representing the multi-agency sting had high remarks for the operation and collaboration between the agencies.


“We work very well together, and that should be a message to other people that we are going to get you if you come to Polk County,” said Winter Haven Police Chief Charlie Bird.


Lakeland Police Chief Ruben Garcia was asked the question, “when was the operation a success?”


“When they put the handcuffs on that first predator, it was a success,” he said.