Eric Rodriguez, 33, of Hanford, Calif., was taken into custody Wednesday morning at a residence in Porterville, Calif. The Hanford High School physical education instructor, who also served as a coach for the school's football and wrestling programs, was placed on administrative leave by the school district in late April after the allegations first came to light. Rodriguez is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court Wednesday afternoon. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California.
"This case is particularly troubling because of the suspect's position and longstanding contact with young people," said Paul Leonardi, ICE resident agent in charge of the Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Fresno. "ICE will continue to work closely with our local law enforcement partners to investigate those who sexually exploit our young people and ensure that these predators feel the full weight of the law."
Suspicions about Rodriguez initially arose after ICE HSI agents conducting an investigation into the use of peer-to-peer file sharing software to distribute child pornography determined that a computer at the coach's residence was being used to download such material off the Internet. On April 27, ICE HSI agents and investigators from the Kings County District Attorney's Office executed a state search warrant at Rodriguez's residence.
"This should serve as a message to those who engage in this type of illegal activity, that federal, state, and local agencies will come together to identify, apprehend and prosecute those who present a real threat to our children," said Kings County District Attorney Investigator Trish Hershberger. "We must realize that every time these types of videos are viewed, the children are re-victimized. Our dedicated personnel will continue to work closely with allied agencies and have no tolerance for sexual predators, especially those who hold a position of trust."
During the search of Rodriguez's residence, agents seized a computer with a single user profile - "eric." A forensic analysis of that computer revealed 30 child pornography videos totaling more than 9 hours in length. One of the videos depicts an 11-to-13-year-old girl struggling as she is tied up by an adult male and ultimately forced to have sex. Many of the child pornography videos found on the seized computer featured titles related to Rodriguez's profession, including "Sex with Teacher," "Sex in the Classroom" and "My First Sex Teacher."
This investigation is part of ICE's Operation Predator, a nationwide initiative to identify, investigate and arrest those who sexually exploit children, and the Department of Justice's Project Safe Childhood, which marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet.
As part of Operation Predator, ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423. This hotline is staffed around the clock by investigators. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or http://www.cybertipline.com.
Through Project Safe Childhood, the Department of Justice is seeking to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.