The victims of a human trafficking ring operated out of a Super 8 Motel in Lantana, Fla., by three local men may have a case against the motel.
Just days before going to trial, a pair of men charged with forcing women to work as prostitutes in a Palm Beach County human trafficking ring agreed to plea deals during a hearing before circuit Court Judge Scott Suskauer, according to news reports.
Floyd Lopez received a sentence of 15 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to five counts of human trafficking in addition to charges of false imprisonment and aggravated battery. His co-defendant, Demetrius Wells, who agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of Lopez, received a five-year sentence after he pleaded guilty to multiple counts including human trafficking, sexual battery and deriving proceeds from prostitution.
At the time of the arrests in 2018, investigators alleged that Lopez, the mastermind behind the crimes, rented a motel room in Lantana and arranged for women “under his control” to be driven to “dates” with clients at locations stretching from Jupiter to Fort Lauderdale. During prostitution appointments, Lopez required Wells, and the third defendant, Nicholas Sukie, to guard the other women at gunpoint to prevent their escape. Sukie received a five-year sentence for labor trafficking and false imprisonment in 2018, and finished his sentence in 2022.
Victims May Have Case Against Super 8 Motel in Lantana
Authorities said the men victimized at least four women who were all in their 20’s. Lantana police began investigating the men in October, 2018, after receiving complaints about a possible criminal operation being operated out of the Super 8 Motel on Hypoluxo Road.
The victims may have a case against the Super 8 in Lantana if it was complicit in the human trafficking crimes, and in aiding the defendants. Human trafficking is a complex situation, involving many different causes. In most cases no single group or individual can be held responsible for the crime. Instead, responsibility can lie with several groups depending on the circumstances. In general, any person or entity who knowingly benefits from or facilitates human trafficking can be held liable – criminally and civilly.
In this case, the owners or management of the Super 8 Motel may be held liable for damages if they’d been made aware that individuals were using their properties to facilitate human trafficking activities to exploit victims through coercion and force.
It had been documented in the past that individuals had gone to motel management and let them know that there was a good chance that human trafficking was occurring at the motel. Unfortunately, it looks like the motel did not investigate the situation, and by not taking any action, continued to allow crimes to be committed on the property. Because the motel played an active role in the exploitation of the victims, they could be considered complicit in the process, and potentially liable for monetary compensation to the victims.
Human Trafficking a Growing Problem in South Florida
The case was referred to the Palm Beach County Human Trafficking Task Force which was formed in 2017 by the Sheriff’s Office, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office and the FBI. One of the victims told police investigators that she was paid to have sex with 50 to 60 men.
Authorities refer to human trafficking as “the exploitation of another person for labor, domestic servitude or commercial sexual activity through the use of fraud, force or coercion.”
Lopez, Wells and Sukie were the third, fourth and fifth men in Palm Beach County to be charged with human trafficking. Since the task force was formed in 2017, investigators have worked more than 280 cases, an average of 56 per year. It has identified 225 victims of human trafficking and made 57 arrests.
The State Attorney’s Office has taken two human trafficking cases to trial, both resulting in convictions, while more than a dozen cases have resulted in guilty pleas. Court records show that 13 other defendants plead guilty before their cases went to trial, while 12 people who were initially charged with human trafficking were convicted on other offenses. As of 2022, at least nine other cases remain in the court system.
GOLDLAW Can Help!
If you have been the victim of sex trafficking, or any type of sexual abuse, we encourage you to report it and seek help. Palm Beach County Victim Services and Certified Rape Crisis Center victim advocates are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and can be reached at 561-833-7273. You can also contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
GOLDLAW has a team of attorneys dedicated to helping victims of sexual assault and human trafficking. Though it may not always be in the headlines, human trafficking is very real problem in the United States, and especially here in Florida. If you have been a victim, it is IMPORTANT to seek legal assistance as soon as possible so that you can understand your rights and options under the law! Contact GOLDLAW today at 561-222-2222 to speak with an experienced attorney!