Two women charged with human trafficking in Ocala
Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 4:52 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 10:13 p.m.
Two women accused of human trafficking have been arrested by a multi-jurisdictional task force, according to documents released Tuesday.
A confidential source working with law enforcement paid a $1,500 cash deposit to "buy" at least three young women, ages 17 to 23, authorities say.
No women were ever delivered to the confidential source. The two women accused of receiving that deposit money — Melissa Rodriguez, 41, and Ysbette Joseph, 31 — were arrested earlier this month and taken to the Marion County Jail, where they were booked on charges of human trafficking.
They remained there Tuesday night with bail set at $50,000 each. Rodriguez and Joseph, both Williston residents, declined interview requests from the Star-Banner.
Details of the case and the arrests were sealed by court order until Tuesday because the investigation was ongoing.
The joint task force is comprised of the Ocala Police Department, the FBI and the State Attorney's Office.
The investigation dates back to April, when a source working secretly with law enforcement met with Rodriguez at an Ocala night club — El Nuevo Palacio Latino, 2677 NW 10th St. — where Rodriguez worked as a manager/bartender.
During their conversation, authorities allege, Rodriguez told the source she was from New York and had previously been involved in the escort business.
The confidential source said a friend was looking to expand his escort business. He told Rodriguez he was looking for Hispanic girls. Rodriguez told the source she could assist him, law officers allege.
The two met again in May, this time in Orlando, at a birthday party for Rodriguez's grandchild. They had further discussions and agreed to meet a third time, authorities say.
In June, the source met with Rodriguez and Joseph at the Denny's on State Road 40 just west of Interstate 75. At that point, the law enforcement records say, Rodriguez said she could provide "foreign girls" and said she had "already spread the word to let people know she is looking."
In fact, Rodriguez said she would personally deliver the girls to the source.
The three met again in July at Applebee's, 2615 SW 19th Avenue Road, authorities say. Rodriguez requested a down payment of $1,500 for at least three girls.
Nearly two weeks later, Rodriguez and the confidential source met in the parking lot back at El Nuevo Palacia Latino. Rodriguez said she had three girls and was trying to get a fourth.
The source gave her $1,500 cash, as previously agreed, law officers said.
In early August, Rodriguez and Joseph met with the source in the parking lot of Zaxby's on State Road 40 just east of I-75. Rodriguez was asked about the girls and, according to authorities, she said she could not take the source to Haines City, where the girls were, because she was working that night.
However, she told the source she could arrange for the source to meet the girls that night in Haines City. He could take the girls and pay for them later.
No women were ever transported to the confidential source.
On Oct. 4, arrest warrants were issued for the two suspects. Rodriguez was arrested Oct. 9 in Orlando, and Joseph was arrested the next day in Levy County.
They were both transported to the Marion County Jail on Oct. 14.