Sex trafficking in South Florida: WPTV gains exclusive access to sheriff investigation

Victims & families open up about sex trafficking

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - It's modern day slavery. Women and children are forced into becoming sex slaves. Florida has more people forced into human trafficking than just about any state in the country.

The Contact 5 Investigators received exclusive behind the scenes access to an undercover investigation to see exactly how it happens.

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Detectives with the Martin County Sheriff's Office received a tip about a sex trafficking home in Stuart earlier this year. Contact 5 Investigator Dan Krauth went along with detectives as they spent months investigating the tip and doing surveillance on the home.

"Within an hour you would see anywhere from ten to 15 different men walking in and out of the home," said detective Yesenia Carde of the Martin County Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's office worked with an informant and sent an undercover deputy inside the home in the 3000 block of Indian Street who pretended to be a customer looking for sex.

"He went in and it was just like the informant had told us, they were selling women for 25 dollars each for 15 minutes of sexual intercourse" said Detective Carde.

The Contact 5 Investigators were sitting in a car outside with detectives as they listened for a deal to be made inside the home. The undercover deputy was equipped with a microphone and undercover camera.

"He (undercover deputy) went as far as getting his zipper undone and then we called him to get out of the house real quick," said detective Carde.

The female detective then called the undercover deputy inside the home, pretending to be an angry wife.

"I was just yelling at him in Spanish saying ‘Hey, I'm going to burn your stuff, it's time to get home,'" said detective Carde.

Detectives with the Martin County Sheriff's Office had enough evidence to get a search warrant and go inside the home. They found two women and the 31-year-old man they said was selling the women for sex.

Deputies put everyone in handcuffs until they could figure out who played what role.

"It's very degrading and it's just heinous," said detective Carde.

The victims of sex trafficking aren't just adults. Detectives believe children were also sold for sex inside the Stuart home. It's something they're still investigating.

A similar thing happened to a woman's daughter in Palm Beach County. She grew up taking ballet and equestrian classes but ended up getting sold for sex at 16-years-old.

"I hope no other mother has to go through what I went through," said the victim's mother.

"It's the most heinous crime imaginable to rip that innocence away from your child," she said.

Detectives said the younger the girls, the bigger the profits that are made.

"Especially the juveniles, that's big money for them," said detective Carde.

Inside the Stuart home, detectives found piles of money and condoms around the house and also a pile of red chips on the windowsills next to the beds. That's because customers weren't allowed to hand the women any money, they handed them tokens. Next to one bed were 18 red tokens which meant the woman had been with eighteen men that day.

"They would work from morning to night accepting anywhere between 20 to 30 clients a day," said detective Carde.

At the end of the day it's a crime that's not as much about sex as it is about money. It's why it took detectives so much time before busting the Stuart home. They believe new victims were brought in every week. Plus, they believe there are many more homes out there.

"I know I couldn't live peacefully knowing someone next to me in my community is being held against their will, it's not right," said detective Carde.

There are also young victims that aren't confined to sex homes and hotels. The Contact 5 Investigators spoke with a young woman whose boyfriend sold her for sex for an entire year.

"It pretty much was hell, just wondering from one day to the next well, how many or who," said the young woman.

"It's not a choice at all," she said.  "You lose all control, your life no longer belongs to you no matter how much you hide it."

Follow Dan Krauth on Twitter: @DanKrauth .

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