ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A man from El Paso, Texas, made his initial appearance Monday in federal court on a criminal complaint charging him with child exploitation.
Special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) investigated this case.
Juan Carlos Hernandez, 44, is charged with enticing a minor online to engage in illicit sexual activity, and interstate travel to meet a minor with the intent to engage in illicit sexual activity. He remains in federal custody pending a preliminary hearing and detention hearing, which have yet to be scheduled.
On Friday, HSI special agents arrested Hernandez on a criminal complaint alleging he solicited a child younger than 16 years old online between September 2012 and June 2013. The criminal complaint also alleges that Hernandez traveled from El Paso to Anthony, N.M., in June 2013, intending to have illicit sexual contact with a child younger than 16 years of age.
According to the criminal complaint, Hernandez met the child victim on an Internet social networking website in September 2012. The two began communicating regularly through text messaging on cellular telephones in May 2013. Hernandez was arrested on state charges June 22, 2013 after deputies with the Doña Ana County (N.M.) Sheriff's Office found him with the child victim at a park in Anthony, N.M.
In July 2013, HSI obtained federal search warrants for the cellular telephones seized from Hernandez and the child victim June 22, 2013. Information obtained through the search warrants revealed that Hernandez allegedly engaged in sexually explicit communication with the child victim. It also allegedly revealed that Hernandez knew the child victim was younger than 16 years old, and that prior to meeting her, he told her he was 17, 18 and 22 years old at various times.
If convicted of the online-solicitation charge, Hernandez faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison, and a maximum punishment of life in prison. If convicted on the interstate travel charge, Hernandez faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.
The charges in the complaint are merely accusations and Hernandez is presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Las Cruces (N.M.) Police Department also assisted with this case, which is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa A. Lizarraga.
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 producing and distributing online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking children. In fiscal year 2013, HSI agents arrested more than 2,000 individuals 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.