A Florida pastor who recently launched a new church is among 125 people arrested in a 20-day human trafficking sting that resulted in the rescue of four women and a 17-year-old in the US.
“Individuals who make a conscious choice and effort to take advantage of others through human trafficking have no room in Hillsborough County,” Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister declared during a press conference on the arrests.
“Our approach and efforts year-round are proactive and relentless. Our strong team of detectives will continue to work tirelessly to takedown and put a stop to human trafficking.”
Chronister said during the sting operation dubbed “Operation Round-Up” that started on Aug. 4 and ended Oct. 13, undercover detectives targeted criminals who attempted to prey upon minors, sought sex for themselves or exploited victims through human trafficking.
Among those arrested are Pastor Samuel Phillips Jr., 44, who recently launched Be Limitless Church in Riverview, and Joel Velasco, 38, a teacher at an unspecified Hillsborough school.
Pastor Samuel Phillips Jr.
In a video on the church’s website, Phillips explained that God gave him the vision for the church in January and he and his wife, along with their two young daughters, have been on a mission: “To advance the kingdom of God by transforming communities and bringing hope to the culture, through simplistic and practical biblical teachings that will help them discover purpose and experience the love of God in their everyday life.
“Throughout this operation our detectives created undercover profiles online and chatted with men who believed they were speaking to minors, created false advertisements for sex, and undercover female detectives posed as streetwalkers,” Chronister said.
Chronister said Velasco offered to pay undercover detectives $60 in exchange for sex while Phillips “responded to a false ad placed on an escort website and offered to pay our undercover detective for sex.”
“These men who were all held to a standard of trust and respect were all arrested for soliciting another to commit prostitution,” Chronister said.