February 23, 2022
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL — Eighteen men — including a school principal and a church employee — were arrested in a sex trafficking sting conducted by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office during a three-month period, a news release said.
During the operation, detectives rescued two 15-year-old girls. One of the girls had a history of falling prey to commercial sex trafficking, and the other one was being groomed by a 41-year-old man to take part in his rape fantasies, deputies said.
Multiple charges have been filed by the sheriff's office against the suspects, including
Attempted lewd or lascivious battery
Traveling to meet a minor after using computer services/device to solicit certain illegal acts
Use of computer services or devices to solicit certain illegal acts
Transmissions of harmful material to a minor
Unlawful use of a two-way communication device
The investigation, "Operation Wanderlust," began in November 2021 as detectives in the human trafficking section acted like minors online. During the online discussions, the suspects are accused of soliciting sex acts from detectives and sending inappropriate pictures, authorities said.
Deputies said the men arranged to drive to Hillsborough County to have sex with their victims.
According to the sheriff's office, most suspects came from different Tampa Bay areas. One man drove from Boca Raton to have sex with a minor.
"These suspects came from all walks of life, including Derrick McLaughlin, the principal of an elementary school in Hillsborough County," Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a statement. "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."
McLaughlin, who was the principal at Dawson Elementary School in Riverview, was accused of sending sexually explicit texts to an undercover detective who posed as a 15-year-old boy, WTSP reported.
He faces charges of use of computer services or devices to solicit certain illegal acts, lewd or lascivious battery (engage) attempt, unlawful use of a two-way communications device, WFLA reported.
Eduardo Antonio Iglesias Amaya was arrested twice during the course of the operation. He was additionally charged with child porn after a search warrant led investigators to the images on his phone, officers said.
"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," Sheriff Chad Chronister said. "Through operations like Wanderlust, we are constantly taking a proactive approach to finding these predators, and our efforts will not stop."
Anyone with information regarding any of the suspects arrested throughout Operation Wanderlust, or anyone who may feel they have been victimized, is asked to call the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office at 813-247-8200.
For a full list of the suspects arrested during this operation, click here.
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, the National Human Trafficking Hotline operates a 24-hour hotline. It can be reached at 1-888-373-7888, by texting HELP to BeFree (233733), or by chat to talk about your needs, your options, and the resources they have available to help you. The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay urges you to call 211 for resources surrounding human trafficking.