BROOKSVILLE, Fla. (FOX 13) - A two-year human trafficking investigation in Hernando County saved the life of a teenage girl and landed several people in jail, including a firefighter and a restaurant owner, investigators said Friday.
Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis described how the case unfolded, beginning with an anonymous tip about a teenager who was allegedly being forced into prostitution by a person who should have been acting in a parental or guardian role.
"She should have been doing things like learning to drive, maybe attending school dances, or thinking about going to college but she was instead being forced into committing prostitution by an individual who, the only thing we can say, was a custodial adult - somebody acting in the capacity of parent or guardian," the sheriff said.
The sheriff said deputies quickly responded, confirmed the tipster's information, saved the girl, and arrested her guardian, who is not being identified to protect the victim.
"It is sometimes someone in a circumstance that never imagines that they will stumble upon a symptom of human trafficking, that feels something just isn't right," said Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. "Because of that brave person reporting anonymously to law enforcement, this case was developed and a child was rescued from a tormentor."
During the two years following the initial arrest, detectives identified nine men who allegedly paid for contact with the victim, including East Lake firefighter Matthew Doyle, who is now suspended without pay.
"We have been informed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that Matthew Doyle, a paramedic and lieutenant who has worked for ELFR since 2005, was arrested and charged with two counts of kidnapping, one count of public order crimes, and one count of lewd and lascivious behavior," Fire Chief Tom Jamison said in a statement. "Lt. Doyle has been suspended without pay, pending the outcome of the case. This is a deeply troubling report. We are fully cooperating with authorities and will assist the investigation in any way we can."
One of Doyle's neighbors was surprised to hear about the arrest.
"The fact that the person across the street was arrested. That in itself is disappointing," said Ashley Clark.
Luigi Barile is also among those arrested; he is one of the owners of the Chefs of Napoli restaurant in Spring Hill.
The news turned away some regular customers.
"It's cost them my business forever," said Eileen Palumbo, who was going to go to lunch at the restaurant before changing her mind. "I am more than disappointed, I'm horrified. Horrified that this went on."
The ages of the suspected 'Johns range from 19 to 75 years old.
Investigators said there could be more arrests and are asking anyone with information about other people involved in this case to call authorities.