Officials held a press conference Friday to announce the arrest of two men in connection with a human trafficking ring in Pinellas County.
Peter Kitt, 41, and Shawn Franklin, 42, are behind bars for allegedly forcing 16 women into prostitution. Officials say the men drugged, beat and sexually assaulted the women.
Attorney General Pam Bondi called it the first case of its kind in Florida, as it marks the first time local and state agencies have made an arrest in a human trafficking case in Florida that involves racketeering.
"It is modern day slavery, and today we are here to show you an example of it right here in our own community," she said. "And it is one of the horrendous crimes you can imagine."
According to Clearwater Police Chief Anthony Holloway, the investigation started in June 2012, when investigators received information from Tampa police about Kitt, who they said was involved in possible prostitution activity.
Investigators set up a sting operation in Largo. A few days later, Kitt, who had a gun and drugs, showed up with a woman, investigators said. Kitt was taken into custody.
Investigators said they learned Kitt would recruit the women, who were between the ages of 21 and 30, from local strip clubs, then bring them to a brothel in Pinellas County, where they underwent "training."
Some of the women became addicted to drugs. Some of the women were beaten sometimes so badly they needed to be hospitalized, Holloway said. Some of them were sexually assaulted.
Once the women were "trained," they were sent to motels, hotels and residences around the Tampa Bay area, and even as far away as Sarasota, where they would work as prostitutes, Holloway said.
The suspects would then go check on the women to make sure they were working and to collect money, Holloway said.
Kitt was arrested Friday morning by St. Petersburg police. It is not clear when Franklin was arrested.
Holloway said that so far three women have been rescued, including one woman who was addicted to drugs.
Officials said they are asking more of the women to come forward.