Broward Arrests for Online Escort Services

April 7, 2023 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Sex Crimes

In Florida, it is unlawful for any person to pay for sex, or offer sex up in exchange for payment. This type of criminal offense is referred to as prostitution or “sex work.” The State of Florida prosecutes harshly on cases involving sex work and possible human trafficking.

It is not uncommon for those involved in sex work to have online websites for advertising. In one recent Florida case, four people have been charged with prostitution charges after law enforcement discovered multiple websites designated for purchasing sex. This article will provide the case details from Broward Sheriff’s Office, along with relative information on prostitution charges in Florida.

What was the Incident?

The Broward Sheriff’s Office has arrested four individuals on charges of prostitution and money laundering. According to BSO’s report, the Office’s Strategic Investigations Division (SID) began a multi-year investigation in October 2021 into their alleged online escort services.

BSO detectives partnered with the Homeland Security Investigations and were able to receive information pertaining to three websites: Platinum Pleasures, So Sexy Escorts, and Queen of Hearts. All three sites were believed to be engaging in prostitution offenses.

SID Detectives identified Justo and Jack Fernandez as the two brothers who were operating Platinum Pleasures. Marcelo Arbelo was identified as the operator of So Sexy Escort, and Yadelin Battle as the operator of Queen of Hearts. The women who were being advertised on the websites had been placed in several hotels in Broward or Miami-Dade County.

SID investigators arrested the Fernandez Brothers on March 27th, 2023, where police presented two separate search warrants for each of their homes. The following day Arbelo was arrested in Plantation, Florida. Arbelo was charged with several unrelated offenses by the Doral Police Department. Battle was arrested by the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) on March 30th, 2023.

All four suspects are now facing charges for prostitution and money laundering. Arbelo is facing additional charges for sexual battery and human trafficking.

Criminal Charges for Prostitution

In Florida, there are various offenses that can result in being charged with a prostitution crime. Under Florida Statute Section 796.07, it is unlawful for any person to partake in any of the following:

  • Own, operate, or manage a place designated for sex work;
  • To offer another person for the purpose of lewd or indecent acts, or for prostitution;
  • To receive or offer to agree to receive a person for the purpose of sex work;
  • To direct, transport, or take any person to a place designated for the purpose of prostitution;
  • Any person 18 or older to offer to commit or engage in sex work;
  • To solicit, induce, or entice another person to commit prostitution;
  • To reside in, enter, or remain in any place that is designated for prostitution;
  • To aid, abet, or participate in another person’s act or attempts at committing any of the above offenses; and
  • To pay for the services of any person who is engaged in sex work.

The penalties for a prostitution offense will vary depending on the defendant’s prior criminal history.

For a first-time prostitution offense, a person can face a second-degree misdemeanor. The penalties for a first-degree misdemeanor include up to a $500 fine and up to 60 days of imprisonment.

For a second prostitution offense, a person can face a first-degree misdemeanor. The penalties for a first-degree misdemeanor include up to a $1,000 fine and up to one year of imprisonment.

For a third or subsequent prostitution offense, a person can face a third-degree felony. The penalties for a third-degree felony include up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years of imprisonment.

One important thing to note is that the penalties are more severe for any person who solicits, induces, or entices another person to commit or engage in prostitution.

For this type of offense, the penalties are as follows:

  • For a first-time violation, a person can face a first-degree misdemeanor.
  • For a second violation, a person can face a third-degree felony.
  • For a third- or subsequent violation, a person can face a second-degree felony. The penalties for a second-degree felony include up to a $10,000 fine and up to 15 years of imprisonment.

In addition to possible imprisonment, a person who is convicted of the above prostitution offense will be required to perform 100 hours of community service, and will be required to pay for and attend an educational program about the negative impacts of prostitution and human trafficking. The court is required to sentence a person convicted of a second or subsequent offense to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 days in jail.

Statistics on Human Trafficking in Florida

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH), human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery. The site claims to maintain the most extensive set of data on human trafficking in the U.S.

In 2021, the NHTH received 51,073 signals of human trafficking. Since the site’s inception, they have identified 82,301 cases of human trafficking in the nation. Of those, they have identified 164,839 human trafficking victims.

The following is a list of statistics from the NHTH regarding Florida’s 2021 data on human trafficking:

  • The NHTH received 2,894 signals from their hotline in Florida with 1,146 of the signals from victims or human trafficking survivors;
  • Of those, 781 cases were identified. There were 1,253 victims involved in the Florida cases;
  • 574 cases were related to sex trafficking, whereas 99 cases involved labor, and 37 cases involved both sex and labor;
  • 56 of the cases took place at a hotel or motel;
  • 55 of the cases took place at illicit massage or spa businesses;
  • 53 cases involved victims of sex work who were in pornography;
  • 36 cases involved residence-based commercial sex;
  • 24 cases had unknown online Ad Venue;
  • 15 cases involved an escort or delivery service;
  • 12 cases were street-based; and
  • 8 cases took place at a strip club, and 5 cases took place at a bar or club.

To find out more information on human trafficking in Florida and the rest of the nation, read the NHTH’s page here.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Despite sex work often being glamorized in TV and movies, the reality is that you can face serious criminal charges if you have engaged in any sex work acts. The state of Florida takes these crimes very seriously, as sex work has often led to traces of human trafficking. A person can face both State and Federal charges for human trafficking. The penalties can result in expensive fines, imprisonment, and being required to partake in educational training to prevent any future prostitution offenses. To find out more about what to do if you’re accused of paying for sex in Florida, read our blog post here.

If you or someone you know has been accused of a prostitution offense in Florida, it is in your best interest to reach out to a defense lawyer in Tallahassee, FL. Navigating the legal field can be stressful and confusing, which is why you need a top-notch attorney on your side. Don Pumphrey and his team have years of experience representing Florida clients. It is our vow to fight for you, your case, and your future. Contact Pumphrey Law Firm today at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website for a free consultation regarding your case.

Written by Karissa Key

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