108 arrested after six-day human trafficking sting


Courtesy of Fox10 News

Ell Samara, Graphic Designer

On March 15, 108 people were arrested, their ages varying from 17-67, after the six-day sting operation called “Operation March Sadness II.” Florida Polk county officers were looking to find predators and human traffickers. Human trafficking is when one is forced into some form of labor or commercial sex exploitation. Traffickers do not prey on any specific outer characteristics, instead, they tend to go after people who are economically challenged and who live in unstable environments, said the United States Department of Justice.

The affair began when detectives from Polk county found online prostitutes who would advertise through social media apps for their services. Then they used that to find the type of people who followed and interacted with them and their content. In doing this, the officers also found many whom they suspected to be inappropriately contacting children.

Four of the people were Disney park employees, including Xavier Jackson, a 27-year-old man that was caught sending pictures of himself to one of the undercover detectives posing as a 14-year-old girl. Grady Judd, the Polk County Sheriff stated, “He just happens to be a lifeguard at the Polynesian Resort for Disney. You think there’s a few children around there? … [he] was bragging about that.” Jackson was charged with three counts of transmitting harmful material as well as one count of unlawful communication. 

The three other people from the Disney parks included Wilkason Fidele, Shubham Malave, and Ralph Leese; all of whom were charged with attempting to solicit a prostitute. Their ages varied from 24-45. Disney came out and told WESH2 News that Leese, Fidele, and Jackson were placed on unpaid leave rather than fired for their inappropriate actions. They also stated that Malave was not even an employee. Malave claimed that he was a software developer for Disney, but they could not confirm the truth of his statement.

Another person found guilty during this investigation was a former judge from the Cook County 4th  Sub Circuit Court, Daniel Peters. Peters, along with another individual who worked at the Florida theme park Fun-Spot, were among those who were arrested for soliciting a prostitute. 

When Judd talked about some of the many individuals associated with the case, he said, “[Ralph Leese is] married, so I’m sure Disney’s not pleased. I bet his wife’s not pleased, but we’re pleased that we arrested him.” He went on to say that arresting the four child predators and human traffickers made the entire operation worthwhile. Overall, the case is still unfolding with many updates to come.