Five people have been arrested in connection with two human trafficking cases in Pinellas County, detectives announced Tuesday.
Detectives said all of the suspects are accused of either prostituting or having sex with underage girls, who they met online via social media websites.
In the first case, Julian J. Montoya III, 22, is facing charges of human trafficking, transmission of material harmful to minors, possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia.
According to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, they learned about Montoya in February when the mother of a 16-year-old girl told detectives that her daughter had several pornographic photos and videos of herself on her cell phone, and that she may have been recruiting other underage girls for prostitution.
Detectives said they learned the teenage girl had been in contact with someone she knew only as "Pimp Master Flex," who detectives later identified as Montoya. The girl told deputies that Montoya posted photos of her on Craigslist several times to advertise her services as a prostitute, the report said.
Detectives said they also learned Montoya had encouraged the girl to recruit other teenagers, and that the girl eventually recruited three girls, one of whom was 15 and two of whom were 17.
On Monday, detectives searched Montoya's house in Palm Harbor and seized several items, including cell phones, Xboxes, external hard drives and marijuana.
Two other men — Humberto Frutos, 25, and Johnathan D. Zakel, 29 — were also arrested Monday on charges of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. Deputies said the men had sex with the 16-year-old girl.
In the second case, detectives began their investigation in February after receiving a tip about a 16-year-old girl posting prostitution ads on Backpage.com.
Detectives tracked the phone numbers, which led them to Dominique Jamal Drake, 22, and Syrenite McGee, 23. The detectives said the girl met Drake and McGee online, and on March 6, the suspects picked the girl up and took her to a hotel in St. Petersburg.
The girl stayed with them for several days, and during that time, the pair put several ads for her on BackPage.com, detectives said.
Detectives say at least four men responded to the ads and came to the hotel to have sex with the girl. The girl was then forced to turn over her earnings to Drake, detectives said. Detectives said McGee also prompted the girl to have sex with another man who responded to an ad she'd placed for herself.
At one point, the girl asked to keep some of the cash, and Drake grabbed her by the throat and told her never to "disrespect him like that" again, detectives said. That's when the girl left the hotel.
Drake and McGee were arrested on Monday in a parking lot at 22nd Avenue and 31st Street S in St. Petersburg. They are facing charges of human trafficking.
All suspects were taken to the Pinellas County Jail without further incident.
The investigation continues.