An undercover sting operation that aimed to identify human traffickers, as well as help victims, has resulted in the arrest of 108 people, including three Disney employees, according to a statement released by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday.
Dubbed “Operation March Sadness 2,” the action began on March 8 and ran for six days. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office Vice Unit conducted the operation in conjunction with members of nine other departments and agencies.
“Detectives identified prostitutes who posted online advertisements as well as the ‘johns’ who were seeking out the prostitutes via online communications, with the intent to identify and free any victims who were being forced into prostitution (human trafficking), or anyone participating in the trafficking of victims. Detectives also identified and investigated adults who engaged in on-line sexually charged communications with those they believed were children—four men were arrested for preying on children online,” stated the Sheriff’s office.
Sheriff Grady Judd said, “The arrests of a human trafficker and four child predators alone makes this whole operation worthwhile. The on-line prostitution industry enables traffickers and victimizes those who are being trafficked. Our goal is to identify victims, offer them help, and find and arrest those who are profiting from the exploitation of human beings. Johns fuel the trafficking and victimization. Where there is prostitution, there is exploitation, disease, dysfunction, and broken families.”
People reports that, during a press conference on Wednesday, Judd gave specifics about some of the suspects whom he found especially disturbing:
Among them were Disney employees, a worker at the Fun Spot family amusement park, a woman accused of trafficking another young woman, and a retired Illinois judge.
The Disney employees arrested include Xavier Jackson, a 27-year-old lifeguard at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, who is charged with three counts of harmful material and one count of unlawful communication for allegedly sending explicit photos to a detective whom he believed was a 14-year-old girl. Wilakson Fidele, who works at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café in Tomorrowland, and Ralph Leese, who works in information technology, were also arrested for allegedly seeking prostitutes.
Walt Disney World has placed the three employees on unpaid leave, PEOPLE confirms. An additional suspect whom Judd identified as a software developer for Disney has never been employed by the company, according to a representative.
Ironically, the Disney Corporation, which has a massive footprint in Florida, has been in the news this month for criticizing the Parental Rights in Education measure, which has passed through the state legislature and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
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Disney CEO Bob Chapek said at a shareholders’ meeting last week that “[we] were opposed to the bill from the outset” but that the House of Mouse did not state a public position because “we thought we could be more effective working behind the scenes, engaging directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.” The corporation also announced it would donate millions of dollars to LGBTQ+ organizations.
Gov. DeSantis (or “47,” as I like to call him), was having none of it. “The chance that I am going to back down from my commitment to students and back down from my commitment to parents’ rights simply because of fraudulent media narratives or pressure from woke corporations, the chances of that are zero,” WPTV quotes him as saying.
“And when you have companies that have made a fortune off being family-friendly and catering to families and young kids, you know, they should understand that parents of young kids do not want this injected into their kids’ kindergarten classroom,” DeSantis said. “They do not want their first graders to go and be told that they can choose an opposite gender. That is not appropriate for those kids.”