Bradenton man caught in human trafficking sting

Polk County Grady Judd talks at a news conference Wednesday about the arrest of Bradenton...
Polk County Grady Judd talks at a news conference Wednesday about the arrest of Bradenton resident Seth Phillips and Christina Garite.(Polk County Sheriff's Office)
Published: Mar. 16, 2022 at 11:21 AM EDT
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POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WWSB) - A Bradenton man was among more than 100 people arrested in Polk County during a six-day undercover operation targeting human traffickers, authorities said Wednesday.

In all, 108 people were arrested by the sheriff’s office vice unit during “Operation March Sadness 2.”

Detectives identified prostitutes who posted online advertisements as well as potential customers seeking out the prostitutes via online communications, with the intent to identify and free any victims who were being forced into prostitution or anyone participating in the trafficking of victims.

Detectives also identified and investigated adults who engaged in online sexually charged communications with those they believed were children -- four men were arrested for preying on children online.

Undercover detectives communicated online with the suspects and arranged for a meetup at a location where they were arrested after their arrival.

Among those arrested was 49-year old Seth Phillips of Bradenton, who detectives say arrived at a house with a woman, 34-year-old Christina Garite, with the intent of soliciting prostitutes.

When a detective tried to cancel the meet-up due to a scheduling conflict, Phillips became angry, and made demands that the undercover detectives would have to give him money for the appointment and for the drugs he was going to sell them, a news release said.

Phillips showed up at the residence, and when detectives opened the door, he pointed a gun at them. Phillips was arrested and charged with attempted armed robbery with a firearm, extortion/threats, possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell, four counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, possession of drug paraphernalia, and offering to commit prostitution.

“The arrests of a human trafficker and four child predators alone makes this whole operation worthwhile,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

The sheriff’s office was assisted in the effort by police departments from Winter Haven, Haines City, Lake Wales, and Auburndale, as well as the Office of the State Attorney of the 10th Judicial Court, members from the Florida Department of Children and Families, and anti-human trafficking organizations One More Child, Heartland for Children, and Selah Freedom of Sarasota.

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