Rick Scott leads attack on human trafficking in Florida, suspends 81 massage therapists’ licesnses
Florida Governor Rick Scott suspended the licenses of 81 massage therapists with fraudulent licenses during a crackdown against human trafficking.
No arrests have been made and no incidents of prostitution or human trafficking have been linked to the 81 therapists, who listed addresses nationwide.
The Tampa Bay Times quotes Scott who claims 200 people who did not enroll in massage school nonetheless received transcripts showing successful completion by paying between $10,000 and $15,000 to an individual who worked at a Florida massage school.
They used those transcripts to get massage licenses from the Florida Department of Health.
This investigation, along with the Clearwater and South Florida Human Trafficking Task Forces, launched an investigation earlier this year. Clearwater Police Chief Anthony Holloway said that with a seemingly legitimate license, “You open up an avenue for trafficking.”
State Surgeon General John H. Armstrong declined to name the Florida school, citing an ongoing investigation, but he said it was not in the Tampa area.
The investigation into the licenses “showed that there is an irregularity,” said Armstrong, who also serves as state secretary of health. “It was done as a system, and as a consequence, it justifies further investigation to look at just what these individuals were doing.”
He said holding a license can lend an air of legitimacy to an operation “as a cover for illicit activity.”
As far as a connection between the 81 therapists and ongoing illegal activity or trafficking, “We don’t know about that at this point,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
“This is a way to chip away at it. This is a first step in an overall process where we’re trying to effectively deal with and eradicate human trafficking. So this is one step in that process.”
“If you want to break the law, if you want to prey on the vulnerable, if you are in any way in the business of human trafficking, you do not want to do it in Florida,” Scott said. “Our justice system here is thorough and swift.”