April 02, 2022
Operation Wanderlust, an investigation into human trafficking that started in November 2020, ended in the arrest of eighteen suspects last week and the safe recovery of one trafficking victim and one potential trafficking victim- both teenage girls.
The goal of Operation Wanderlust was to take action against the online solicitation of minors and involved undercover detectives from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office chatting with suspects online who were attempting to solicit sex from and groom minors through social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat. Perpetrators were said to target vulnerable minors online, often those suffering financial hardships or those from unloving homes.
The arrested suspects engaged in sexually explicit conversations online with undercover detectives posing as minors. The suspects sent sexually explicit and inappropriate images and set up in-person meetings with whom they believed to be minors.
Throughout the three-month-long investigation over three hundred contacts were made and eighteen suspects were arrested, around nine of whom were travelling from various parts of Tampa, Florida and beyond to meet with underage victims.
A man in his sixties, named in reports as John Getejanc, drove from Boca Raton to solicit sex from a minor.
Caitlen Macias of the World Without Exploitation Youth Coalition told 12News: "The demand for commercial sex is really what is fueling this and it’s really endangering kids on and offline, specifically kids who are already vulnerable. Just like there are dangers in the world, there are dangers online. Groomers, pimps, traffickers are using Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and all of these different platforms to solicit minors, get their information, and groom them for commercial sex. People that are vulnerable, that need financial support, maybe they need love, maybe they come from a broken home, they’re going to fall prey to this and they’re actually going to be like maybe this is something that can be a great opportunity for me."
The World Without Exploitation Youth Coalition is made up of teenagers and young adults between 15 - 28, who raise awareness, educate, and advocate for changes to protect young people from exploitation and trafficking.
Disturbingly, one of the suspects arrested as a result of Operation Wanderlust for attempting to solicit a minor for sex, turned out to be an elementary school teacher named Derrick McLaughlin. McLaughlin was charged with “use of computer services or devices to solicit certain illegal acts, lewd or lascivious battery (engage) attempt, and unlawful use of a two-way communications device.”
An affiliate of Bethel of Brandon Pentecostal Church, Robin Varghese, was also arrested and charged with the same offense and another suspect, Eduardo Antonio Iglesias Amaya, was arrested twice and was found to have eighteen counts of child pornography in his possession, which investigators found on his cell phone.
Two fifteen-year-old girls were rescued during the operation. One of the girls had fallen victim to commercial sex trafficking several times previously.
Another fifteen-year-old was being groomed by a middle-aged man, Arthur Alan Vos III, who had planned to meet her. The girl’s father discovered her conversations with Vos on her phone and contacted the police. Detectives from Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Human Trafficking Section intercepted the meeting and arrested Vos in his vehicle. They discovered a condom, leather paddle and a firearm and conversations between the suspect and victim revealed that Vos had BDSM rape fantasies in which he wanted to include the fifteen-year-old girl.
In a statement published to the Hillsborough County Website, Sheriff Chad Chronister said: “These suspects came from all walks of life, including Derrick McLaughlin, the principal of an elementary school in Hillsborough County. 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.”
Sheriff Chronister added:
“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. Through operations like Wanderlust, we are constantly taking a proactive approach to finding these predators, and our efforts will not stop."
Images of the suspects have been posted to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office website and anyone with any information, or individuals who may feel they have been victimized, are asked to call the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office at 813-247-8200.
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