‘Very first person to rent:’ New Jersey man arrested for human trafficking at St. Augustine Airbnb

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — St. Johns County deputies are investigating a case of human trafficking out of an Airbnb property.

A New Jersey man was arrested and charged, Monday, for human trafficking of a person less than 18, interference with child custody, illegal use of a two-way communication device, and direct/promote sexual performance by a child.


According to an arrest report from the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, deputies were called out to a home in reference to a 16-year-old girl who ran away from home. Some details are redacted to protect the minor’s identity and the case’s integrity. The person who called deputies said they went through the teenager’s cell phone and found her talking with 21-year-old Ethan Diaz of New Jersey. The messages were explicit. Diaz was requesting the minor “to send sexual photographs of herself to him, so he could sell them to unknown males on the internet,” according to the report.

The messages contained statements from Diaz telling the 16-year-old he was at the airport. Location pings showed he was at the Jacksonville International Airport. The St. Johns County Intelligence Analyst Davis found an Airbnb rented by Diaz on Marilyn Avenue in St. Augustine.

Read: ‘Hidden crimes’: JSO shining light on human trafficking

“Their very first person to rent.” Alia Reinerd said. She grew up on the street and know the people who own the property. “I have an Airbnb a couple houses down so it kind of made me a little nervous too, because you actually don’t know who’s checking in.”

Diaz was taken into custody after refusing to answer questions. Detectives spoke to the victim who said she started selling her own nude images on Snapchat. She was later contacted by a ‘Carol’ or ‘Katty’ who created an OnlyFans account in her name and put her in contact with Diaz. He then created several fake Snapchat accounts in the 16-year-olds name to “sext” with men and sell her images. According to the arrest report, the victim did not have access to these accounts.

The two discussed meeting up in Florida so they could “make content.”

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“You just don’t know nowadays,” Reinerd said. “With the internet and all the things, you really have to pay attention to what your kids are doing.”

Detective Edward Scoggins with the St. Johns County Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) unit was the reporting officer on the scene. He could not comment directly on this case, because it’s still an open investigation. He said the means for recruitment in trafficking has evolved with social media.

“Classical means of recruitment for human trafficking has always been malls, schools, places where young, typically females congregate. With the advent of social media and internet, those places are now online platforms—Snapchat Instagram, Facebook,” Detective Scoggins said. “The pool for them to reach out to and the net they can cast is much larger than it ever has been.”

Watch: Local sheriffs fight human trafficking

He added, grooming techniques are also playing a role.

“An old world view of a trafficker is with physical force, kidnapping, that’s no longer the case,” Detective Scoggins said. “The new world form of it is what’s called ‘Romeo pimp,’ and they go out and they try and put themselves towards young, vulnerable women, as ‘I love you,’ ‘you’re the greatest person ever,’ ‘I’ll take care of you.’”

It’s why Detective Scoggins said education and keeping a close eye is crucial. He advocates for parents to be involved. Rather than taking away a social media app or cell phone, he said you should make sure you have regular access.

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“No locked doors. It’s a policy that parents have in their house—you’re not allowed to lock doors. The same should go for the child’s cell phone,” Detective Scoggins said. “Being able to have that oversight is the key.”

Airbnb tells Action News Jax that it has been working closely with the Sheriff’s Office to support their investigation and efforts to apprehend Diaz, and that it has also banned Diaz from the platform.

Right now, Florida ranks third in the country for the highest number of human trafficking cases, according to World Population Review. Hotels and rental properties are hot spots for traffickers.

“The booking process for both of those don’t require background check. You don’t know who’s coming,” Detective Scoggins said.

He recommends education as a tool for hotels, renters, and families.


• Department of Homeland Security ‘Blue Campaign’.

• Florida Department of Family Services: Preventing Human Trafficking training.

HerSong Tim Tebow Foundation.

Behavior to look out for in victims:

  • Appearing malnourished
  • Appearing injured or having signs of physical abuse
  • Avoiding eye contact, social interaction, and law enforcement
  • Responding in manners that seem rehearsed or scripted
  • Lacking personal identification documents
  • Lacking personal possessions

For more resources you can watch our special investigation into sex trafficking in Jacksonville.