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January 6, 2014Fresno, CAUnited StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

California Navy petty officer pleads guilty to child sex trafficking

FRESNO, Calif. — A 33-year-old Navy petty officer pleaded guilty Monday to one count of sex trafficking a minor, following a probe by the Central California Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Charles Ray Benavidez, an Aviation Ordnanceman Second Class at the Naval Air Station in Lemoore, is scheduled to be sentenced March 17. According to court documents, in April of last year Benavidez knowingly recruited a 17-year-old female to engage in commercial sex acts in Kings and Tulare counties. Benavidez, who was indicted in May 2013, has been in federal custody since May 23, 2013.

"This office is committed to doing all we can to protect our children from the plague of prostitution," said U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner. "We will identify, prosecute and punish the criminals who treat young girls as if they were commodities in the sex trade."

"This defendant was sworn to defend this country, yet his callous and calculating actions put a trusting teenager directly in harm's way," said Mike Prado, resident agent in charge for HSI Fresno. "HSI will continue to work closely with its federal and local partners to target sexual predators, like this individual, who ruthlessly exploit vulnerable young people for their own gratification and greed."

Benavidez faces a minimum statutory sentence of 10 years in prison. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

In addition to HSI, other agencies involved in the case included the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and the Porterville, Tulare, and Lemoore police departments. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian W. Enos is prosecuting the case.

The charges stem from Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including Internet child pornographers, criminal alien sex offenders and child sex traffickers; and Project Safe Childhood, a Department of Justice effort launched in May 2006 to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.

HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423 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, 1-800-843-5678.

Led by the United States Attorneys' Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute those who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit Click on the "resources" tab for information about Internet safety.

Updated: 09/23/2014