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Child Exploitation
03/17/2014

Serviceman sentenced to 10 years for sex trafficking a minor

FRESNO, Calif. – A former Navy petty officer at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Lemoore was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for sex trafficking a minor, following a multiagency probe that included U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Charles Ray Benavidez, a former aviation ordnanceman second class, pleaded guilty in January to knowingly recruiting a 17-year-old female to engage in commercial sex acts in Kings and Tulare counties.

According to court documents, in April 2013 Charles Ray Benavidez knowingly recruited a 17-year-old female to engage in commercial sex acts in Kings and Tulare counties. Benavidez was charged with sex trafficking of a minor and pleaded guilty Jan. 6. He has been in federal custody since May 23, 2013.

The case resulted from a probe by HSI, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), the Porterville, Tulare and Lemoore police departments, and the Central California Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

"For most people, criminal acts against children are impossible to comprehend, but for the children who have been sexually exploited, these crimes are all too real," said Mike Prado, resident agent in charge of HSI Fresno. "The physical and emotional scars are difficult, if not impossible, to outgrow. HSI will continue to work tirelessly to ensure child predators and sex traffickers receive the justice they deserve."

This investigation was conducted under 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.

For additional information about wanted suspected child predators, download HSI's Operation Predator smartphone app or visit the online suspect alerts page.

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.