SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A 58-year-old suspended Catholic priest was arrested Tuesday for allegedly transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and sexual trafficking of minors. The arrest follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with the assistance of the Puerto Rico Department of Justice, the FBI and the Puerto Rico Crimes Against Children Task Force (PRCACTF).
HSI special agents arrested Israel Berrios-Berrios at his residence in Naranjito without incident.
According to the indictment, from 2007 through 2008, Berrios-Berrios allegedly transported the minor to his Naranjito home in an automobile owned by the San Jose Parish in Aibonito to engage in a commercial sex act.
The indictment further alleges that in July 2008, Berrios-Berrios transported the minor to the Miami, where together they took a four-day cruise to the Bahamas for the purposes of engaging in a commercial sex act.
"These allegations are especially disturbing given the position of trust the defendant has occupied," said Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI San Juan. "Identifying people who violate their positions of public trust by contributing to the exploitation of children is a top priority for HSI. Anyone who targets children for sexual exploitation should also consider themselves a target by HSI and by our law enforcement partners regardless of who they are. We have an obligation to protect those most vulnerable in our society who cannot protect themselves."
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshal D. Morgan. If convicted, the defendant faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a possible maximum statutory penalty of life in prison.
In response to the need for an island-wide approach to fighting the escalation of predatory crimes against children, HSI San Juan partnered with members of local, state and federal law enforcement, as well as local and state government officials and community leaders, to form the Puerto Rico Crimes Against Children Task Force (PRCACTF) in June 2011.
Through PRCACTF, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies work together with local and state government agencies to effectively pool their resources to jointly investigate all crimes against children in Puerto Rico. Through the task force, law enforcement officers are encouraged to share evidence, ideas, and investigative and forensic tools to ensure the most successful prosecutions possible. As such, PRCACTF allows law enforcement to speak with one unified voice in defense of the children of Puerto Rico.
The investigation is part of HSI's Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 10,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2013, more than 2,000 individuals were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE 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-THE-LOST.
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.