The men responded to an ad for prostitution and were lured to the Days Inn in Palm Coast.
Deputies running an undercover sting operation arrested a dozen men, including seven Palm Coast residents and a Bunnell resident, Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 for soliciting prostitution.
"Prostitution is often described as a victimless crime since it appears the two parties are consensual," the Flagler County Sheriff's Office stated in a news release. "However, the women are rarely in control of the funds they receive, human trafficking plays a large role, and these encounters are often laced with drug activity. Many times the 'Johns' are victims of robbery or the women end up being attacked."
One of the suspects, 32-year-old Palm Coast resident Jeffrey Nowden Jr., offered the undercover deputy crack cocaine in exchange for sex. He was already on probation, and had arrived at the meeting point with 4.2 grams of crack and 1.5 grams of a heroin/fentanyl mixture.
Deputies tried to also arrest prostitutes during the operation — called "Operation Red Light to Green Roof" — but none of the women showed up to meet an undercover deputy "John," saying that they couldn't make the trip because they were coming from surrounding counties and the drive was too long, according to the news release.
"The good news for Flagler County is that it does not appear we have prostitutes in our community. The bad news is that there are many people from Flagler County trying to solicit prostitution," Sheriff Rick Staly said in the news release.
To lure the men, an undercover deputy posted an ad to backpage.com, using "verbiage consistent with similar posts" advertising prostitution, but "did not specifically offer any services."
“After posting the ad on Backpage, our undercover officer’s phone was ringing off the hook,” Staly said in the news release. “This shows us that the desire for prostitutes is present in Flagler County. Our UC received over one hundred phone calls from both men and women and numerous text messages displaying genitalia.”
The men were directed to the Days Inn at 120 Garden Street N. in Palm Coast.
Most cases proceeded like the case of a 46-year-old Palatka resident who arrived at the hotel and offered the undercover deputy $60 for a "massage." (The ad did not mention a massage.)
The undercover deputy asked him, "Do you want to know what's off limits?" according to an arrest report.
The man asked her if she was a cop.
She replied, "A massage, that's pretty boring."
The man looked at his crotch and then, "making a face implying he wanted sexual acts," looked at the undercover deputy. Then he stripped naked without being asked to, according to the arrest report.
Those arrested included seven Palm Coast men, a Bunnell man, a Palatka resident, a St. Augustine resident, a Jupiter resident and one man whose city of residence was not listed in the Sheriff's Office's records. They ranged in age from 19 to 66.