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A pair of alleged child sex traffickers were busted at a Florida motel thanks to the quick thinking of the motel’s owner, resulting in the rescue of two minor girls.
Ricardo Flores, 44, and Maria Barrios Calero, 44, were arrested Sunday and charged with human trafficking.
Motel owner Richard Baron said Flores checked into Lago Motor Inn just south of West Palm Beach by himself around 6 a.m. on Sunday.
About a half hour later, the motel owner knocked on the door after learning there was an argument happening inside between Flores and Calero.
“He [Flores] opened the door, and then I see two young women, girls, sitting in yoga style, in the middle of the bed,” Baron told local outlet WPEC. “She [Calero] says to me, ‘He has to pay, he didn’t pay.’ I don’t know what happened between them.”
The motel owner also spotted a condom near Flores as the two girls sat on the bed with him while the two human trafficking suspects argued about a transaction.
“The girls were sitting right over here, quiet, eyes like this, looks scary,” Baron said.
Baron was shocked by the scene, called the police, and filmed Calero attempting to drive away with the two young girls. He shared the footage with the local outlet WPEC.
The Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office’s Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit reportedly responded around 8 a.m. and confirmed both minors appeared to be victims of commercial sex trafficking.
“Initial fact-finding by detectives on scene confirmed the commercial sex trafficking of two minor victims,” the Palm Beach County Police Department said in a statement. “The two minor victims along with the two suspects were transported to a local substation for interviews.”
Flores allegedly paid to have sex with both girls.
Calero was charged with three counts of human trafficking, and Flores was charged with two counts of human trafficking.
Both were arrested and taken to the Palm Beach County Jail. Calero’s bond was set at $750,000, while Flores’ bond was set at $500,000.
Baron has been working at the motel for the past 12 years and has taken the legally mandatory training to report red flags of child sexual exploitation and forced prostitution to authorities.
State Attorney Dave Aronberg heads up Palm Beach County’s human trafficking task force along with the sheriff’s office.
“That’s going a long way to ending modern day slavery,” Aronberg said of one of the task force’s human trafficking awareness campaigns, a poster for which was spotted inside the motel.
“We can’t be everywhere. We depend on the public to be our eyes and ears. That’s why we see mandatory signage in places where we have a number of individuals who have been victims of human trafficking, like bus stations and rest stops on the highway,” the state attorney said.
Human trafficking is a significant problem in Florida, which ranks as the third highest state for human trafficking cases, according to the Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking.
The average age of a victim when forced into sex trafficking is 12 to 14 years old, and in 2021, more than 10,000 cases of human trafficking were identified in Florida through a hotline, the group says.
“Palm Beach County is actually the third in the state as far as reports of Human Trafficking go,” Director of Victim Services Nicole Bishop said.