LAS CRUCES, N.M. — A west Texas man pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to a felony information charging him with enticing a minor online to engage in illicit sexual activity.
U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents investigated this case.
Juan Carlos Hernandez, 44, of El Paso, Texas, faces 10 years in federal prison, according to the terms of his plea agreement. His prison sentence is to be followed by a term of supervised release to be determined by the court. Hernandez also will be required to register as a sex offender.
HSI special agents arrested Hernandez Feb. 28 following a criminal complaint alleging that he solicited online a child under the age of 16 years between September 2012 and June 2013. The criminal complaint also charged Hernandez with traveling from El Paso to Anthony, New Mexico, in June 2013 with the intention of having illicit sexual contact with a child younger than 16 years old.
According to court filings, Hernandez met the child victim on an Internet social networking website in September 2012. The two began communicating regularly by text messaging on cellular phones in May 2013. Hernandez was arrested on state charges in the early hours of June 22, 2013 after deputies of the Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office found him with the child victim at a park in Anthony, New Mexico.
In July 2013, HSI obtained federal search warrants for the cellular phones seized from Hernandez and the child victim. Information obtained through the search warrants revealed that Hernandez engaged in sexually explicit communication with the child victim. It also revealed that Hernandez was aware that the child victim was under the age of 16 years, and that prior to meeting the child victim, Hernandez told her he was 17, 18 and 22 years old at various times.
In his plea agreement, Hernandez admitted intentionally enticing underage females online to engage in illegal sexual activity with him between Sept. 1, 2012 and June 22, 2013, by using a social account that he accessed with his cellular phone and computer. Hernandez admitted telling minor females that he was 18 years old. Hernandez specifically admitted engaging in multiple sexually explicit conversations with a 13-year-old girl.
Hernandez has been in custody since his arrest and remains in custody pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.
The Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office and the Las Cruces Police Department participated in this investigation.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa A. Lizarraga of the U.S. Attorney's Las Cruces Branch Office.
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.
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.