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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

California man charged with sex trafficking; authorities rescue 3 teenage girls

SANTA ANA, Calif. - A California man charged with sex trafficking is scheduled to make his initial appearance in federal court Monday afternoon following his arrest Friday night, when authorities rescued three teenage girls he allegedly brought from Texas for the purpose of having them work as prostitutes.

Samuel Martinez Gonzalez, 26, of Santa Ana, Calif., was charged in a criminal complaint filed Monday morning in U.S. District Court with transporting minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.

Martinez was arrested Friday night as he walked down Elk Lane near Interstate 5 in Santa Ana. Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and an investigator with the Orange County Sheriff's Department conducted the enforcement action.

The search for Martinez and the teenage victims began early Friday after a relative of one of the girls contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to report the missing teenagers, indicating they might be in Orange County, Calif. Later that day, local authorities in Texas met with the mother of two of the girls, who provided a cell phone number that helped HSI agents track down Martinez.

"Predators who sexually exploit young people should realize that their unspeakable acts will not go unpunished," said U.S. Attorney André Birotte, Jr. "Child exploitation crimes are among the most important cases we prosecute, and we will spare no effort in prosecuting criminals who seek to take advantage of young victims."

According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, one of the teens told investigators that Martinez invited them to go to California to "go to the beach." After arriving in California, the affidavit describes how the defendant took the girls shopping for dresses and high heels for their "job." The affidavit alleges that, in addition to the three Texas teens, Martinez had a fourth girl in his custody who was already working for him as a prostitute.

"This is every parent's worst nightmare," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for ICE HSI in Los Angeles. "Fortunately, because of the extraordinary cooperation and aggressive efforts by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as well as the law enforcement agencies involved in this case, the three Texas girls were rescued before they could be forced to engage in any acts of prostitution. ICE HSI will continue to work closely with its law enforcement counterparts here and around the world to protect young people from sexual exploitation."

At the time of his arrest, Martinez was accompanied by three females, including one of the teenage girls from Texas. The affidavit states that approximately one hour later, HSI agents and officers from the Orange Police Department located the two other missing teens in a motel room in Orange, Calif.

According to the court document, the girls - who are 15 and 16 years old - told agents they were relieved they had been rescued and looked forward to being reunited with their families. The three Texas teens are currently in protective custody, and a fourth girl, also believed to be a victim who was forced to work as a prostitute, is now being cared for by a family member.

"This arrest reinforces the importance of the working relationship that Sheriff's investigators have formed with ICE agents," said Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. "Taking a suspect like this off the streets makes our community safer for children and sends a message to others who prey on children that their criminal activities will be discovered and they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Martinez is scheduled to make his initial appearance Monday at 2 p.m. in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana.

The charge of transporting minors in interstate commerce for the purpose of prostitution carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in federal prison. The maximum statutory sentence is life.

The federal investigation into Martinez is being conducted by ICE HSI, which is working closely with the Orange County Sheriff's Department, as well as with the Orange (California) Police Department and the Irving (Texas) Police Department.