Two Florida men were arrested for human trafficking after allegedly soliciting minors for sexual activity on social media, according to officials.
Moises Escoto, a 36-year-old youth pastor, and Joel Lutz, a 38-year-old registered foster parent, were arrested in connection with a human trafficking investigation, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said.
The sheriff’s office said its human trafficking team launched an investigation after a mother reported finding disturbing content on her 16-year-old’s phone.
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Investigators discovered that Escoto contacted the victim two years ago on a chat and meetup app called Sniffies. Since initially making contact with the teenager, Escoto allegedly solicited sexually explicit pictures and videos in exchange for money and gifts.
Escoto was also secretly meeting with the victim and engaging in sexual acts, investigators said. He was a youth pastor at Iglesia de Cristo Misionera Mahanaim Church. He was arrested on Feb. 9.
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During the investigation, deputies found that Lutz had engaged in sexual acts with a minor he also found on the Sniffies app in exchange for money. Lutz was arrested on Feb. 15 at his job at Outback Steakhouse.
“It is absolutely disgusting that these two men, who were placed in positions of mentorship and trust with children in our community, used online apps to seek out and victimize our youth,” Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we know that predators are constantly on the hunt to ruin the innocence of our community. I urge parents to know where and what their children are doing online at all times. We will not stop searching for these deviants wherever they may be, and we ask for parents and the community to help us protect our precious children.”
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Escoto and Lutz are facing charges of human trafficking for commercial sexual activity, lewd or lascivious battery, use of computer services or devices to solicit certain illegal acts, traveling to meet a minor after using computer services or devices to solicit certain illegal acts, use of computer services for lewd or lascivious exhibition defendant over 18, transmission of harmful material to a minor, unlawful use of two-way communications device, unlawful sexual activity with a minor and other charges.