By ROBERT NAPPERBradenton Sun
Posted on Tuesday, July 10, 2007
BRADENTON --Confidential informants working inside a suspected house of prostitution in the heart of Bradenton aroused enough suspicion of human trafficking to bring federal agents into the investigation.
Court records show informants told Bradenton Police and federal authorities of Hispanic prostitutes brought in from other countries illegally, living out of suitcases, being rotated from house to house, selling themselves for sex.
Police said they believe one of those houses operated in downtown Bradenton, in the 700 block of Fourth Avenue West, behind the U.S. Post Office.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were the first to receive complaints about teen prostitutes brought illegally into the county selling sex in the house, according to court records.
Complaints that juveniles were involved also brought the FBI in to investigate possible human trafficking in the house, according to Bradenton Police Sgt. Cris Truluck.
During a recent raid of the home, none of prostitutes was found to be under the age of 18. But evidence did show an active house of prostitution, and the need for further investigation into possible human trafficking.
A raid of the home on June 28 showed enough evidence to arrest the man authorities said they believe ran the prostitution house.
Police charged Gumaro Valencia-Mariche on the day of the raid with prostitution and setting up a main place for prostitution. He is being held in the Manatee County jail on $1,120 bond.
Also, U.S. immigration authorities deported three people found in the home during the raid, including two female prostitutes, Truluck said.
All of the prostitutes in the home told police and the FBI they had been paid, and none was found to be under the age of 18, thus squashing the possibility of making a human trafficking case, Truluck said.
But based on the testimony of informants working inside the house, authorities said they may have just scratched the surface of a wider prostitution ring in Manatee, as well as across Florida.
"This thing is huge and organized. There are locations in Sarasota, Manatee, Fort Myers and Orlando," one employee informant in the Bradenton house told investigators.
And during the raid, evidence showed signs that tales told by informants of prostitutes being shuffled from house to house to be true, according to court records.
"There is evidence of people being brought in from other countries and being rotated around different locations," said Truluck. "This is still very much an open investigation."
On Dec. 15, 2006, Truluck first met with an agent with U.S. immigration about the house on Fourth Avenue West, according to court records.
Immigration authorities were the first to receive complaints about activity at the home.
"The complaint was that this location was being used for prostitution and possibly juvenile prostitutes that were illegal in the country," Truluck stated in an affidavit.
After that initial meeting, citizens' complaints began to come in on the house, mirroring the initial complaint to immigration.
By February, police had the house under surveillance. One person pulled over on a traffic violation leaving the house admitted to paying for sex there.
Other surveillance showed dozens of men entering the home for short periods of time, then leaving.
By March, a man working in the house had been located and agreed to become an informant, according to the affidavit.
He told police men would pay him and would in turn receive a token or playing card. The men would then give the token or playing card to the prostitute.
That prostitute would then get paid by giving the card or token back to the informant at the end of the night, the affidavit said.
Another informant would sign on and tell similar tales of life in the house.
"The prostitutes told us they were paid. But it is very little money, which creates a vicious cycle where they have nowhere else to go," said Truluck.
On June 20, Bradenton police received a call from an anonymous person saying he had gone to the house to get a prostitute and had a gun pulled on him, according to the affidavit.
Truluck asked to enter the home after responding to the call. Inside he saw dozens of condoms, playing cards and "small suitcases."
"I also noticed there were small suitcases with a small amount of women's clothes inside them," Truluck wrote in his affidavit. "This was also consistent with information given that the girls working in this house are rotated every one to two weeks."
It was also enough probable cause to get a judge to sign off on the search warrant affidavit for the raid.
"With this information it is believed that a house of prostitution is in operation at this location. Both confidential informants in this case have been proven to give reliable information," Truluck stated in his affidavit.
- Herald Staff Writer Natalie Neysa Alund contributed to this report.