‘Operation Round-Up’: Human trafficking bust results in more than 125 arrests, including teacher and pastor

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HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL – The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Florida recently ran an operation designed to lure in child predators. 

“Operation Round-Up” was overall a smashing success, netting over 100 arrests including a local pastor and former teacher.

Operations like this are nothing new and are designed to locate and apprehend those who prey on our country’s most vulnerable victims – children.  Police agencies who conduct these investigations spend several thousand-man hours in both chatting investigations as well as intelligence so that arrests can be made as safe as possible.

The operation worked by utilizing undercover officers who have been trained through ICAC, Internet Crimes Against Children, to pose as underage children and venture out into the electronic realm. 

While there, these undercover officers eventually can catch those that are wishing to engage in sexual activity with minors. 

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister spoke about the operation on Twitter:

“Because of the unfortunate success of operations like this over the past several years, I have now created a full-time human trafficking squad to focus on reducing the demand and rescue victims.  To these detectives, thank you for your dedicated efforts.”

In all, detectives were able to take 125 people into custody for allegedly attempting to have some type of sexual relations with minors. 

The successful operation ran from August 4th until October 13th

Of those arrested, one was a local preacher and another a former schoolteacher.

Detectives announced the arrest of former Hillsborough County Public School Teacher, Joel Velasco, and Samuel Phillips, Jr, a pastor for the Be Limitless Church. 

Velasco, according to the Hillsborough School Board, did not have access to any children this school year as he resigned for an unknown reason before the year started. 

Phillips, however, is very much active in the church it appears that he founded with his family.

Chronister, in speaking about both of these men, said:

“These men who were all held to a standard of trust and respect were all arrested for soliciting another to commit prostitution.”

A search of the Be Limitless Church appears as if it is still active and Phillips is still the main pastor. 

While there is no contact information for him directly, a video advertisement for his church is still up on the website with him encouraging people to come to his church to help the community and worship God.  According to Chronister:

“We also came into contact with Samuel Phillips, Jr., a pastor at Be Limitless Church, when he responded to a false ad placed on an escort escort website and offered to pay our undercover detective for sex.”

Chronister highlighted a few other men who are alleged to have also attempted to commit some type of sexual crime with minors.  In terms of Philip Velikettel:

“Philip Velikettel is a 48-year-old man living in Valrico…Velikettel traveled to meet a 14-year-old girl, but instead was met by our detectives who immediately took him into custody.”

He then spoke about Muntasir Shafiq who also believed he was speaking to a minor, this time a boy, allegedly for the purposes of sexual activity:

“Once again using social media as a veil, we apprehended Muntasir Shafiq, a 35-year-old man from Lutz.  He thought he was in communication with a 14-year-old boy.  His texts were too vile to fathom.”

Chronister also spoke of the overall success in terms of not only identifying child sex predators but his allegation that the operation was able to save four women and a teenager from human trafficking.  Chronister said the women that were rescued were aligned with Selah Freedom which is an organization designed to help victims of human trafficking.

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Child sex offender who was released early, removed from sex offender registry, now charged with at least 9 child sex abuse offenses

STONE MOUNTAIN, GA – A convicted child sex offender who served only 4 years of his 20-year prison sentence, and was removed from the sex offender registry, has been arrested and charged with at least 9 child sexual abuse offenses.

According to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) press release, previously convicted child sex offender Derrick Crooms, 45, was recently arrested due to coordinated efforts by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes (CEACC) Unit, the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office, and the United States Marshals Service.

The press release goes on to note:

“On October 15, 2021, Derrick Crooms, age 45, was arrested and charged with the following offenses:

  • Incest (2 counts)
  • Aggravated Sexual Battery (2 counts)
  • Aggravated Child Molestation (2 counts)
  • Child Molestation (2 counts)
  • Enticing a Child for Indecent Purposes.”

These crimes occurred not only in Georgia, but in several locations throughout the United States.

 

It appears that even more charges may have been filed after the press release went public, as Fox5Atlanta reports that Crooms has been charged with 18 counts of “charges related to molesting children.”  The news outlet did not detail those charges.

Crooms first came to the attention of law enforcement for sex offenses in the mid-1990s.  In 1996, he pled guilty to child molestation charges, and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

However, Crooms was released after serving only four years.

Later, in 2017, Crooms succeeded in having a judge remove his name from the sex offender registry, over the objections of his previous victim Jeanie Fulcher, whom he had molested in 1996.

Fulcher is Crooms’ cousin by marriage, and she told Fox5Atlanta that when she was a seven-year-old child, Crooms molested her while living at her house.  After a year of molestation, she was able to work up the courage to come forward.

She said of the decision to remove Crooms from the registry:

“Their argument was that he was a changed man and he was a model citizen and didn’t get in trouble anymore, hasn’t committed a crime since.”

Not being on the registry meant that Crooms had been free since 2017 to travel about the country with his wife, Rachel Overton, a traveling nurse, without having to notify anyone of his history as a child sex offender.

According to the GBI, Crooms committed many of his child sex abuse offenses during those travels.

In addition, the GBI reports that Overton, a mandated reporter of child abuse by virtue of her profession, was aware of Crooms’ sex offenses but did not report them to law enforcement. Overton has been arrested and charged with “Cruelty to Children-3rd Degree and Failure to Report as a Mandated Reporter.”

 

A victim no more, Jeanie Fulcher was actually instrumental in helping capture Crooms after his far-ranging sexual abuses against children.

She told Fox5Atlanta:

“He took my innocence when I was seven.  You know, I don’t know if you ever really heal from that.”

However, Fulcher displayed the strength of a survivor when, after hearing that Crooms was wanted on new child sexual abuse charges, she “flooded Facebook with his picture.”

Her social media blast paid off, as she received a tip on Crooms’ location via direct message.

She said:

“It panned out.  The tips led to his arrest in Stone Mountain.”

Still, Fulcher remains “frustrated” because Crooms was released early and was free to move about without notifying anyone of his sex offender status.

She told Fox5Atlanta:

“I do think that our justice system has failed us.

“I believe that… if you plead guilty to raping children, or child molestation charges, that you shouldn’t get out of prison at all.

“You shouldn’t get a second chance.”

For those looking for a quick link to get in the fight and support the cause, click here.

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