Bondi, Scott Address Human Trafficking at State Summit

By  //  October 29, 2015

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TAMPA, FLORIDA — Attorney General Pam Bondi and Governor Rick Scott, joined by state agency leaders from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Florida Department of Children and Families, Florida Department of Health, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and the Florida Highway Patrol, today kicked off the 2015 Statewide Human Trafficking Summit.

The two-day summit hosted at the University of South Florida’s Marshall Center is focused on preventing the human trafficking of children and adults in Florida.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi

“It is great to see Floridians coming together to help make Florida a zero-tolerance state for human trafficking,” said Attorney General Bondi. “We are in this fight together, and this summit is serving as a training ground for so many people dedicated to eradicating this horrific crime and protecting human trafficking victims.”

“We are thankful to have many advocates across Florida who are fighting to end human trafficking, including our brave law enforcement officers. By working together and providing support through safe homes and other service providers, we can continue to help protect every person trapped by any form of exploitation,” said Governor Scott.

Gov. Rick Scott
Gov. Rick Scott

More than 700 individuals representing law enforcement, the legal community, state government, community groups, service providers and educators are attending the event. The information-filled summit is offering participants profession-specific breakout sessions and cutting-edge training opportunities.

During her opening remarks, Attorney General Bondi presented the following Floridians with awards to honor their exemplary contributions in the fight against human trafficking:

Diane Checchio, Prosecutor of the Year—is an Assistant Statewide Prosecutor for the Florida Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution, currently serving as lead prosecutor in a case that dismantled a major human trafficking and drug trafficking criminal organization. Checchio’s assistance in a two-year investigation called Operation Pop-A-Smurf allowed Orlando’s Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation to serve seven search warrants and 25 arrest warrants, resulting in the rescue of seven adults and one juvenile from traffickers. Checchio was also the lead prosecutor in a case involving an out-of-state man purchasing two juveniles from Central Florida for commercial sex.

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Since joining the Attorney General’s Office in 2011, Checchio has prosecuted several cases involving child pornography and sexual offenses, resulting in 20-year sentences for the offenders.

Niki Cross, Survivor Advocate of the Year—is the founder and president of Stop the Abuse and Rescue Ministry. Cross is a survivor of abduction and kidnapping, by a former boyfriend who, in addition to others, held Cross against her will and repeatedly assaulted her at age 15. After realizing the self-destruction of her silence, Cross started her healing journey and used her anger and suffering from this horrific experience to help save others. Despite being ridiculed for ministering to exploited and trafficked women, Cross continued to fight for victims. She helped open the first safe house for adult female trafficking survivors in Pinellas County. Additionally, Cross works with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security and local law enforcement on a regular basis to identify trafficked victims to help capture their traffickers.

As a finalist for the 2014 WEDU Be More Outspoken Award and an Everyday Day Hero as named by Bay News 9, Cross currently sits on the board of the F.R.E.E. Slavery Survival Network. Governor Rick Scott has also recognized Cross for her part in the battle against human trafficking in Florida.·

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Dr. Kimberly McGrath, Community Advocate of the Year—is the Clinical Coordinator of Foster Care Services at Citrus Health Network. McGrath is the founding clinician for the Citrus Helping Adolescents Negatively Affected by Commercial Exploitation Program, a specialized therapeutic foster care and community response team for victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The CHANCE Program addresses the emotional, social and behavioral needs of human trafficking victims.

Additionally, McGrath serves as a member of the Statewide Human Trafficking Services Workgroup, the Workgroup’s Residential Providers Subgroup and the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office Human Trafficking Task Force.McGrath is also the founding psychologist for the Treating Adolescents Coping with Trauma program, an outpatient program for sexual offenders, sexual abuse victims and their families. McGrath is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with a Bachelors in Psychology from Northeastern University and a Masters and Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the Florida Institute of Technology.

Sergeant Eusebio Talamantez, Law Enforcement Officer of the Year—is an 11-year veteran of the Panama City Beach Police Department and a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. Talamantez is an active Homeland Security Investigations Task Force Officer and has worked side by side with Homeland Security Investigation’s for nearly 10 years. Talamantez works in conjunction with the Panama City Beach area’s Human Trafficking Coalition and sponsors foreign students in educating them about human trafficking. Talamantez has investigated claims of human trafficking, indentured servitude, labor trafficking, sex trafficking, unsafe living conditions and unlawful wage retention. Talamantez’s efforts recently dismantled a sex trafficking organization involving several adult victims and one teenage American female victimized since 14-years old. Talamantez is also a member of the North Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

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