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Florida business owner charged with running human trafficking ring


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A “massive trafficking ring” operating out of businesses in Hillsborough and Manatee counties has been dismantled, according to authorities, who announced this week the launch of the Florida Human Trafficking Strike Team in connection with the bust.

“The disturbing facts of this case highlight the need for our new statewide Strike Team,” Attorney General Ashley Moody says in a statement.

Lina Payne, who owns several businesses in Manatee and Hillsborough counties, is at the center of the case. She has been charged with human trafficking and other offenses after authorities allege she forced immigrants into the sex trade at establishments fronting as spas or barber shops.

Payne, whose address is listed as an apartment complex on Via Del Mar in Tampa, is charged with six felonies: human trafficking; at least $100,000 in money laundering; deriving support from the proceeds of prostitution; using a two-way communications device to commit a felony; racketeering; and racketeering conspiracy, according to the criminal affidavit from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

The charges stem from activity between January 2021 and May 10, according to prosecutors, who allege Payne operated these businesses for the purpose of prostitution: Latin Relaxation and Jackpot Barbershop in Manatee County as well as Expose Barbershop and Bare All Kinky Body Waxers in Hillsborough County.

The investigation into Payne and her businesses has been ongoing for years, officials say. As early as 2019, the Tampa Police Department was investigating Expose Barbershop, which authorities say had no indications of being a barbershop and instead had a website linked to Latin Relaxation, which featured nude or partially nude photos of women, including Payne. Its website today shows services include a $220 face shave and $220 body exfoliation treatment, featuring pictures of a scantily clad woman in compromising positions.

In November 2022, prosecutors say the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office received a complaint that Payne was promoting prostitution with the possibility of human trafficking at Latin Relaxation in Bradenton. Then in July 2023, a woman called law enforcement to report she was being forced into human trafficking at Latin Relaxation “to pay Payne back for an exorbitant debt and this was against her will,” prosecutors say in a statement. The debt was $40,000 to $50,000 for helping the woman enter the country and $13,000 for a relative’s medical treatment, the statement says. Most of Payne’s victims were women from Colombia and Venezuela, officials say.

After Payne charged $40,000 to $50,000 to smuggle women across the border, she held them in debt bondage and coerced them to perform sex acts for money, often making “threats of physical violence against the women and their families in other countries," the attorney general’s office says.

Over 117 victims have cycled through Payne’s businesses in the last decade, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Mark Brutnell says, according to WFLA. 

The new Florida Human Trafficking Strike Team is helping make contact with 10 victims in the case, and authorities expect more victims to come forward.

To help follow up on leads across the state, the new strike team consists of prosecutors, Florida Department of Law Enforcement analysts and agents, Hillsborough and Pasco County deputies, counter-human trafficking investigators and victim advocates. Currently the strike team is investigating more than 20 human trafficking cases, officials say, including the Payne case, and making contact with 40 victims.

Prosecutors say Payne acted in collaboration with her son, Andres Santiago Payne, and her boyfriend, Sebastian Rubianes Jurado, to unlawfully conduct transactions that exceeded $100,000 a year. All three, who are now charged in the racketeering case, live at the same address, according to court documents. A manager at Latin Relaxation, Karen McGlynn of Tampa, was also charged in the racketeering case. So was Santiago Moreno, whose charges include transporting for prostitution, court records show. 

Before Lina Payne was to take a trip to South America in May, she was taken into custody in Broward County, prosecutors say in a statement advocating for her pretrial detention, noting she had $9,000 at the time of her arrest. Her son and boyfriend were arrested after driving to a criminal defense lawyer in Hillsborough County, and they had $60,000 in their possession, prosecutors say.

Lina Payne is to appear at 9 a.m. Aug. 5 in Tampa before Judge Mark Kiser of the Criminal Court of Hillsborough County.

 

author

Elizabeth King

Elizabeth is a business news reporter with the Business Observer, covering primarily Sarasota-Bradenton, in addition to other parts of the region. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, she previously covered hyperlocal news in Maryland for Patch for 12 years. Now she lives in Sarasota County.

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