FRESNO — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced the arrests of 14 suspects as part of a multi-agency, three-day sexual predator apprehension operation in Fresno County. “Operation Boogeyman” targeted adults seeking to sexually exploit children by using undercover agents and detectives posing as minors offering sex for pay on websites commonly used by victims of sex trafficking. These same websites are commonly accessed by predators to pay and meet victims for sex acts. Included in those arrested was an employee at a local school district.
“Today, we are sending a clear message that there is no place for these heinous crimes in California or anywhere,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “I want to thank all of our law enforcement partners for their collaboration in holding accountable those who broke the law and endangered our youth. My office remains committed to providing targeted and aggressive support to help bring human and sexual exploitation to an end.”
“Following collaborative efforts and proactive investigations by our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners, 14 sexual predators have been arrested," said Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp. "Fresno County law enforcement will aggressively pursue and prosecute adults who target children for sexual exploitation, and our office is committed to holding these predators accountable to the fullest extent of the law. However, and it cannot be stated enough, work inside the courtroom is merely one step in preventing child exploitation, and our efforts must be matched inside the home to educate our children and community on the importance of monitoring the applications your children are using. Sexual predators will continue to seek out minors on various social media platforms. Being involved in your child’s online application use and raising awareness of the risks involved are critical to ending child exploitation.”
"While this operation had its successes of identifying and capturing several dangerous sexual predators, many more are still out there who will continue to try and target our children,” said Fresno County Sheriff John Zanoni. “Law enforcement can't be everywhere at every moment, so it is critical that parents and kids remain vigilant each day to prevent victimization."
The three-day operation, which concluded on Saturday, involved the collaboration of the California Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Bureau of Investigation Human Trafficking and Sexual Predator Apprehension Team, Fresno Regional Office, the Department of Homeland Security Investigations, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fresno Police Department, and the Fresno County Sheriff's Office. The suspects were taken into custody and face charges by the Fresno County District Attorney's Office, including violations of Penal Code Section 288.3-communicating with a minor for the purposes of sex and Penal Code Section 288.4-meeting with a minor for the purpose of sex.
Attorney General Bonta launched DOJ’s Human Trafficking and Sexual Predator Apprehension Teams in June 2021. These teams, led by California DOJ, are located throughout the state including the Central Valley, Sacramento, and San Diego. The teams have taken significant action to support law enforcement partners in disrupting and dismantling human trafficking and the criminal exploitation of children. To date, the teams have taken the following actions, including:
Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery where perpetrators profit from the control and exploitation of men, women, and children for sex or labor through force, fraud, or coercion. Human trafficking does not require movement across borders. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were more than 1,300 human trafficking cases reported in California in 2021 — more than any other state in the nation. In California, human trafficking is prevalent in the hospitality, commercial sex, domestic work, and construction industries. Victims of human trafficking are also found among migrant and seasonal agricultural workers, providers of residential care, and in California’s garment sector.
If you or someone you know is being forced to engage in any activity and cannot leave, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 to access help and services. If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. Additional information and resources to support survivors of human trafficking are available here.
It is important to note that a criminal complaint contains charges that are only allegations against a person. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty.