SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A suspended Catholic priest pleaded guilty Thursday to transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual conduct. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) conducted the investigation that led to the arrest and subsequent guilty plea of the suspended priest.
HSI special agents arrested Israel Berrios-Berrios May 13 at his residence in Naranjito following an indictment that charged him with transporting a minor with the intent to engage in sexual activity. According to the government's version of facts, Berrios-Berrios transported a 15-year-old male minor to Miami, Florida, where together they took a four-day cruise to the Bahamas. While on the cruise, Berrios-Berrios engaged in lewd acts with the minor.
"The arrest and guilty plea of this man are especially disturbing given the position of trust he 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."
In June 2011, the Puerto Rico Crimes Against Children Task Force (PRCACTF) was created by HSI San Juan to respond to the need for an island-wide approach to fighting the escalating number of predatory crimes against children. The task force is a partnership between HSI San Juan and members of local, state and federal law enforcement, as well as local and state government officials and community leaders.
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 a unified voice in defense of the children of Puerto Rico.
The task force and its investigations are 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.