FL: Human Trafficking top of mind after FDLE busts ring on Treasure Coast

He’s alleged to have given his victims various drugs to coerce them into prostitution – at least one woman died in the process.

multi-year trafficking ring on the Treasure Coast was taken down by deputies this week.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) says 42-year-old Daniel Rhodes was running the operation out of hotels and motels along the Treasure Coast using the internet to advertise women for commercial sex.

Fort Pierce Police conducted a sting operation on Rhodes in 2020 at the Motel 6 on Peters Rd.

A local state attorney says cases like these show how human trafficking is hiding in plain sight, CBS12’s Dylan Huberman reports. (WPEC)

After originally being put behind bars for selling meth and prostitution – he now faces a life sentence.

Rhodes was served with an arrest warrant while already behind bars.

He was set to be released from his current sentence by Christmas for the crimes he committed at that Fort Pierce hotel over two years ago.

That all changed after an investigation linked him to a human trafficking ring and a deadly drug overdose.

According to FDLE, Rhodes gave his victims various drugs to coerce them into prostitution – at least one woman died in the process.

“In the realm of bad conduct, this guy is, what he is alleged of doing, is really, really awful and this guy knew what he was doing, and he should be held accountable for it, ” said Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg.

He says this case shows how human trafficking is hiding in plain sight.

“It’s the young girl who shows up to school one day with a new older boyfriend who buys her expensive jewelry and has his name tattooed on her,” Aronberg remarked. “It’s the woman you see at the nail salon who is afraid to look at you in the eye, not allowed to handle the cash.”

A local non-profit organization – Place of Hope – works with trafficking victims.

The Director of Development Jamie Bond says the hardest part of stomping out rings like these is actually having victims come forward.

“We have to be able to prove that it was force, fraud or coercion and,” she continued, “if we can’t, we don’t have a victim, then they can’t prosecute, or the charges are going to be lessened.”

Right now authorities across our area are stepping up their efforts to break up these rings and get justice for the victims.

“What is increasing are the number of cases we are prosecuting, and that’s because of really good police-work,” the state attorney said. “We have a task force where we work with law enforcement to root out this evil.”

And while more rings are being brought down – more victims are left with nowhere to go.

That’s where Bond says organizations like Place of Hope come in to assist with housing and trauma recovery.

“We’re able to come around and support them with high-therapeutic care, customized case management – to get them through those healing and those growth periods, and then to be able to get them back into society,” Bond explained.

Again, both Aronberg and Bond urge anyone who may have been a victim to come forward – reiterating law enforcement cannot do anything to help without one.

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