Two men, a youth pastor and the other a registered foster father, were arrested in Florida this month on human trafficking charges after allegedly soliciting minors for sexual activity on social media.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Tampa, Florida revealed that the suspects contacted one of the victims through a Meetup chat called Sniffies.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said 36-year-old youth pastor Moses Escoto and 38-year-old registered foster parent Joel Lutz were arrested for investigation of human trafficking.
The sheriff’s office said its human trafficking team began investigating after a mother reported finding disturbing content on her 16-year-old son’s phone.
Investigators discovered that Escoto had contacted the victim two years ago on a chat and meetup app called Sniffys. After initially contacting the teenager, Escoto allegedly asked for sexually suggestive photos and videos in exchange for money and gifts.
Escoto was also secretly meeting with victims and engaging in sexual acts, investigators said. He was a youth pastor at the Iglesia de Cristo Missonera Mahanaim Church. He was arrested on February 9.
During the investigation, deputies found that Lutz engaged in sexual activity with a minor whom he found on the Sniffys app in exchange for money. Lutz was arrested Feb. 15 at his job at Outback Steakhouse.
Deputies have arrested 2 suspects involved in human trafficking who found their victims on a chat app. One suspect is a youth pastor, and the other is a foster parent. Read about the investigation, and a warning to parents from the sheriff about the online app. https://t.co/Tj6A0y3Ttp pic.twitter.com/juRxEqBB9r
— HCSO (@HCSOSheriff) February 17, 2023
In a statement, Sheriff Chad Chorister of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said, “It is absolutely despicable that these two men, who were employed in positions of counsel and trust with children in our community, used online apps to locate and prey on our youth. Unfortunately, we know that predators are constantly looking to destroy the innocence of our communities. I urge parents to always be aware of where and what their children are doing online. We will not stop searching for these strays wherever they may be and we are asking parents and the community to help us protect our precious children.”
Moises Escoto and Joel Lutz both face charges of human trafficking for commercial sexual activity, lewd or lascivious battery, use of a computer service or device to commit certain unlawful acts, comp services to solicit certain unlawful acts, or travel to visit a minor after using the services. namely, use of computer services for indecent or indecent exposure to a defendant over 18 years of age, transmission of harmful material to a minor, unlawful use of a two-way communication device, unlawful sexual activity with a minor, among other charges.