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Child Exploitation
05/16/2013

Fresno-area man indicted on child sex trafficking and child pornography charges

FRESNO, Calif. – A Fresno-area Navy petty officer has been indicted on federal criminal charges for sex trafficking of a minor and production of child pornography.

Charles Ray Benavidez, 32, of Lemoore, was charged in a two-count indictment handed down Thursday. The case is the product of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the Naval Criminal Investigative Service; and the Porterville, Lemoore, and Tulare police departments. Brian W. Enos, an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, is prosecuting the case.

According to the indictment, in April Benavidez knowingly recruited a minor to engage in one or more commercial sex acts, and knowingly used a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing child pornography.

"The coercion of minors into prostitution is unconscionable under any circumstances, but the allegations are even more disturbing when the accused, like this defendant, hold positions of public trust," said Mike Prado, resident agent in charge HSI Fresno. "HSI will continue to work closely with its local and federal law enforcement partners to bring those engaged in the sexual exploitation of children to justice. We owe it to these underage victims who are being robbed of their youth and their innocence."

If convicted, Benavidez faces a sentence of 10 years to life in prison for the sex trafficking count, and 15 to 30 years in prison for the production count. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory sentencing factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

The charges stem from HSI’s Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those who travel overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal alien sex offenders and child sex traffickers, and Project Safe Childhood, a Department of Justice effort launched in May 2006 to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute those who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.usdoj.gov/psc. Click on the "resources" tab for information about Internet safety education.

HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423 or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators.

Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-843-5678.

HSI is a founding member and current chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.