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U.S. Marshals Operation Recovers 27 of Tampa Bay’s Most Endangered Children

For immediate release

Mario Price, Deputy U.S. Marshal

Middle District of Florida
Tampa, FL
(813) 483-4246

Tampa, FL  – The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) led a coalition of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, social service entities, the medical community, and non-governmental organizations in planning and executing Operation SEMINOLE SABER, a five-week initiative geared to recover or safely locate the most critically missing youth from across Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. 

The USMS defines “critically missing” children as those at risk of crimes of violence or those with other elevated risk factors such as, but not limited to, drug or alcohol abuse, sexual exploitation, and domestic violence. The collaborative efforts of this multi-disciplinary task force resulted in the recovery or safe location of 27 critically missing children.

In May 2015, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) clarified the discretionary authority of the USMS to support law enforcement requests for assistance on any missing child case. Over the last 12 months, Central Florida based USMS personnel have utilized the JVTA as backbone for two operations spanning eight counties and the safe location or recovery of 60 missing children. These Central Florida missing child recovery coalitions have placed an emphasis on post recovery support to include medical care and social services.

“The resources offered to find missing children through Operation SEMINOLE SABER were invaluable because often we have very few leads. Also, having community partnerships available to provide health and support services for recovered youth was important as sadly, missing youth often neglect their own health needs while they are on their own,” said Anthony Holloway, Chief of the St. Petersburg Police Department.

BayCare, West Central Florida’s largest provider of pediatric and behavior health services, had similar sentiments.

“It was truly an honor to collaborate with law enforcement and community partners to create a safer community for endangered youth,” said Tracey Kaly, Director of Clinical Operations, BayCare Behavioral Health.

Operation SEMINOLE SABER was highly effective. To send a meaningful message to the Hillsborough and Pinellas communities during the month of April, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, participants opted to seek out the most at-risk missing youth in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

The USMS opened 33 missing child assistance cases during the execution of Operation SEMINOLE SABER and managed to close 27 of those investigations for a case closure rate of over 80%. All cases were initiated in close coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO), Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), Florida Department of Children & Families (DCF), Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), and other federal, state, and local partners. Seventeen of the cases opened related to human trafficking victims and/or juvenile arrest warrants.

The Tampa and St. Petersburg Police Departments, Operation SEMINOLE SABER partner agencies, both closed 90% or better of the critically missing child cases within their jurisdictions.

Florida DCF was repatriated with 24 dependent youth, including law enforcement assisted recoveries in Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Paulding County, Georgia and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Florida DJJ cleared 10 juvenile arrest warrants across Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, a figure representing a clearance rate of close to 80% of the operation’s open juvenile warrant cases.

The USAO was instrumental in its role as the Operation SEMINOLE SABER primary legal advisor and prosecutorial entity.

These successes are largely attributed to all investigations being predicated upon intelligence gleaned from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, FDLE Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse (MEPIC), Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Children’s Network of Hillsborough County, Redefining Refuge, More Too Life, Family Support Services (FSS) SunCoast and others.

“FDLE is proud of the work we’ve done with our partner agencies to be able to find and relocate a multitude of endangered children,” said Special Agent in Charge Mark Brutnell, FDLE Tampa Bay.

FSS SunCoast, the lead child welfare agency in Pasco and Pinellas counties, is also proud of this collaborative effort.

“As a member of the Florida task force focused on missing and exploited foster children, I’m especially grateful for the incredible opportunity to partner with federal, state, and local agencies around a singular goal of locating and protecting our local missing youth,” said Jenn Petion, FSS SunCoast President and CEO.

The USMS is encouraged by the positive community response. CNHC, the lead agency charged with administering the child welfare system in Hillsborough County, is pleased with the results of Operation SEMINOLE SABER.

“CNHC is proud to have partnered with the US Marshals Service, Department of Children and Families, Redefining Refuge, and others to recover 10 of our most vulnerable youth. This initiative demonstrates the importance of partnership and how working together can remove unimaginable barriers,” said Terri Balliet, Chief Executive Officer, CNHC.

More Too Life, a partner NGO that provides support to human trafficking victims, also saw great benefit from partnering in this endeavor.

“Children are some of our most vulnerable members of society. This operation sends a powerful message that law enforcement will relentlessly pursue those who may harm children,” said Dr. Brook Bello, Chief Executive Officer, More Too Life.

Natasha Nascimento, President of Redefining Refuge, the Human Trafficking Liaison for CNHC, reinforced these sentiments.

“Operation SEMINOLE SABER proved not only to be an exceptional interagency collaboration which we were honored to be a part of, but a necessary intervention at a critical time for many of our trafficked children who were diagnosed and treated for severe and what could be life threatening illness,” she said. US Marshals didn’t simply recover children, but in many ways created a touch point between us and the children that ultimately could’ve saved their lives.”

The USMS will continue its efforts to find children missing from within our communities, nation-wide.

“There is no more rewarding United States Marshals Service mission than our charter to assist our law enforcement and other community partners with the safe location or recovery of our nation’s missing children,” said U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Florida William Berger. “The Middle District of Florida is proud of the partnerships we’ve been able to develop and reinforce as a result of Operation SEMINOLE SABER as well as the positive impact this initiative has had upon the Tampa Bay community.”

Additional information about the U.S. Marshals Service can be found at


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