Valley News -

Eighteen local residents arrested during statewide human trafficking sting


Last updated 2/2/2017 at Noon


Hundreds of people, including 18 alleged suspects in Riverside County, were arrested during "Operation Reclaim and Rebuild," an annual law enforcement effort intended to combat human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women, children and other victims. This was the operations first coordinated statewide effort.

In total, 474 people were arrested throughout California during the three-day operation that took place last week.

According to officials, 142 men were arrested on suspicion of solicitation, 238 people were arrested on suspicion of prostitution and 36 men were arrested on pimping charges.

After the conclusion of the statewide operation, authorities stated that dozens of commercially and sexually exploited victims, including 28 children and 27 adults, were rescued.

For the third year in a row, Operation Reclaim and Rebuild focused the efforts of more than 30 federal, state, local law enforcement agencies and task forces throughout the state to send a clear message to those who profit from or take advantage of potential victims of human trafficking.

This year, Temecula Police Department’s Problem Oriented Policing Team and Riverside Police Department’s Vice Unit worked cooperatively with the Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force to arrest 18 people in Riverside County. The arrests were made in the cities of Riverside and Temecula.

The 18 alleged suspects who were arrested in the Riverside County operation reside throughout Riverside and San Bernardino counties and included residents from Temecula, Murrieta, Menifee, Lake Elsinore, Riverside and other surrounding communities. Those arrested in the Riverside County based stings ranged in age from 21 to 55.

"During this three-day enforcement operation, participating law enforcement agencies throughout California proactively focused their efforts on rescuing human trafficking victims, identifying and arresting their captors, and disrupting the demand for sex trafficking victims," Riverside Sheriff's Sergeant John Sawyer explained in a press release.

"Prostitution is not a 'victimless' crime," Sawyer wrote. "Ninety-five percent of sex trafficking victims are women or children. Those involved in commercial sexual exploitation frequently have long histories of emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse or trauma in their backgrounds."

Additionally, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recently estimated that one in six endangered runaways are likely victims of sex trafficking.

"The Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force seeks to disrupt and dismantle sex trafficking rings operating within Riverside County and will aggressively identify, pursue and apprehend those who seek to exploit those whom are most vulnerable," Sawyer continued.

Operation Reclaim and Rebuild works in many different ways, including targeting customers and pimps via stings conducted by allied agencies. One way RCAHT members accomplish this is by using online websites known for prostitution.

During this year's operation, RCAHT and participating law enforcement agencies proactively worked to reduce future demand for sex trafficking by identifying and arresting those who pay for sex.

"In Riverside County, decoy law enforcement officers placed advertisements on a popular classified advertisement website commonly used for the solicitation of prostitution," Sawyer explained. "These officers then responded to prospective customers replying to these prostitution ads."

Once the "Johns" brokered and arranged to pay for sex acts, law enforcement officers moved in to arrest them.

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Those arrested in Riverside County during the operation included: .

From left to right: Frank Edward Angulo, 33, of Menifee, Michael Lynn Bagwell, 56, of Murrieta, Justin Blake Carrender, 24, of Temecula, Cole Jean Greenwell, 29, of Lake Elsinore, Robert Jeffrey Jackson, 37, of Murrieta, Michael Thomas Kelsay, 24, of Murrieta.

From left to right: Ahmed Adnan Khalid, 43, of Fontana, Eric Thomas Kochis, 48, of Corona, Nestor Eduardo Licona, 21, of Big Bear, Russell Kent Murdaugh, 55, of Temecula, Thanh Van Nguyen, 39, of Menifee, Arnulfo Gomez Ortez, 36, of Menifee.

From left to right: Mack Palmer, 40, of Cabazon, Paul Joseph Pillsbury, 50, of Corona, Jonathan Huerta Ramirez, 22, of Riverside, John Marvin Rowland, 45, of Murrieta, Miguel Angel Vasquez Jr., 21, of Riverside, Ricardo Zamora, 30, of Colton.

Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has received more than 14,500 reports of sex trafficking in of the United States.

According to officials, victims of sex trafficking are often subjected to severe forms of emotional, physical and sexual abuse; not only at the hands of those who traffic them but those who solicit them as well. These cases often involve the commercial sex trafficking of children and women, as well as incidents of indentured servitude, forced labor, debt bondage or slavery.

According to sheriff's officials, the RCAHT Task Force - which was formed in 2010 to address crimes involving the potential exploitation of victims using force, fraud, or coercion - is a multidisciplinary task force that combines the investigative resources of both local and federal law enforcement.


The law enforcement component of RCAHT currently includes the full-time participation of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Riverside County District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigations, Homeland Security Investigations, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation; as well as the part-time participation of the Hemet Police Department and Riverside Police Department.

The RCAHT Task Force also provides victim services as well as education and outreach through partnerships with the nonprofit organizations Operation SafeHouse and Million Kids.

Anyone with questions about this operation can contact Sergeant John Sawyer of the RCAHT Task Force at (951) 955-1700, or via email. Citizens may also submit a tip using the Sheriff's CrimeTips online form.


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