Two men, a youth pastor and another registered foster parent, were arrested in Florida this month on human trafficking charges after they accused minors of sexual activity on social media.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Tampa, Florida revealed that the suspect contacted the victim through a Meetup chat called Sniffies.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said 36-year-old youth pastor Moises Escoto and 38-year-old registered foster parent Joel Lutz were arrested in connection with a human trafficking investigation.
The district attorney’s office said its human trafficking team began investigating after a mother reported finding disturbing content on her 16-year-old child’s phone.
Investigators discovered that Escoto contacted the victim two years ago on a chat and meetup app called Sniface. Since initially connecting with the teen, Escoto demanded sexually explicit images and videos in exchange for money and gifts.
Escoto also secretly met with the victim and engaged in sexual acts, investigators said. He was a youth pastor at the Iglesia de Cristo Missionera Mahanaim Church. He was arrested on February 9.
During the investigation, deputies found that Lutz had engaged in sexual acts with a minor, who they also found on the Sniffies app in exchange for money. Lutz was arrested on February 15 at his job at Outback Steakhouse.
Deputies have arrested 2 suspects involved in human trafficking who found a victim on a chat app. One suspect is a youth pastor, and the other is a foster parent. Read about the investigation and the Sheriff’s warning to parents about online applications. 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, placed in positions of mentorship and trust with the children of our community, used online applications to seek out and victimize our youth. Unfortunately, we know that predators are constantly on the lookout to destroy the innocence of our community. I urge parents to know where and what their children are doing online at all times. We will not stop looking for these crooks wherever they are and we ask parents and the community to help protect our precious children.
Both Moises Escoto and Joel Lutz face charges of human trafficking for commercial sexual activity, indecent or lascivious battery, use of devices to solicit computer services or certain illegal acts, travel to meet minors after using comp services or services. Use of computer services for defendants over 18 years of lewd or lascivious display, transmission of harmful material to minors, unlawful use of a two-way communication device, unlawful sexual activity with minors, other charges.