BY TORI B. POWELL
UPDATED ON: MARCH 17, 2022 / 12:02 AM / CBS NEWS
Authorities have arrested 108 people, including alleged child sexual predators and those seeking prostitutes, in a six-day undercover human trafficking operation in Florida. Among those taken into custody were four Disney employees and a retired judge, police said.
“The arrests of a human trafficker and four child predators alone makes this whole operation worthwhile,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Wednesday. “Where there is prostitution, there is exploitation, disease, dysfunction and broken families.”
During their operation, which they called “Operation March Sadness 2,” detectives found prostitutes who had posted online advertisements through various websites and social media platforms to identify people who were seeking them out. They also identified adults who they thought were inappropriately communicating with children.
Undercover detectives then communicated online with these suspects before meeting them at a location and arresting them. Members of anti-trafficking organizations also responded, speaking with prostitutes and offering them services and counseling, the sheriff’s office said.
Officials identified four Disney employees as among those arrested. Xavier Jackson, 27, worked as a lifeguard at the Polynesian Resort for Walt Disney. Judd said Jackson sent inappropriate photos of himself and messages to an undercover detective who pretended to be a 14-year-old girl. He was charged with three counts of transmitting harmful material to a minor and one count of unlawful communication.
“We protected some little girl someplace that was groomed or potentially groomed by these evil, deviant criminals, thugs, that’s all they are,” Judd said about the four suspects at a press conference. “They’re dangerous people.”
The three others, who were allegedly attempting to solicit a prostitute, were identified by Judd as: Wilkason Fidele, 24, who worked at the Cosmic Restaurant at Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland for four years; Shubham Malave, 27, who is on a visa citizenship from India and worked as a software developer for Disney; and Ralph Leese, 45, who spent nearly four years working in IT for Disney.
“He’s married,” Judd said about Leese. “So I’m sure Disney’s not pleased. I bet his wife’s not pleased, but we’re pleased that we arrested him.”
In a statement to CBS News, Disney confirmed that Leese, Fidele and Jackson have been placed on unpaid leave. It added that Malave is not an employee of the company.
Authorities also arrested a man who worked at a local family amusement park in Orlando called The Fun Spot and a former Florida judge. Both were allegedly seeking prostitutes.
Judd said Daniel Peters, 66, told detectives that he used to be a judge in the Cook County 4th Sub Circuit Court and a special assistant for legal affairs in the office of professional regulations at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office in Illinois. He was charged with soliciting a prostitute.
“He requested an attorney,” Judd said. “Well judge, you need an attorney. You got problems.”
Judd warned that his office will continue to arrest those who violate the law.
“What amazes me is we could do another operation starting next week and fill this board up again,” he said. “And be sure of one thing: These chiefs and I will do just that. We’ll be back and if you violate the law, we’re going to take you to jail. That’s a guarantee.”