The Tulare County Sheriff's Department busted a human trafficking ring Thursday.
Tulare Sheriff Mike Boudreaux announced Thursday that officers made multiple arrests after successfully completing a special operation titled "Operation Baby Face."
Read the press release from Tulare County Sheriff's office below:
"On Aug. 11, 2016, Sheriff Mike Boudreaux announced the results of a special operation titled Operation Baby Face that culminated with multiple arrests. This investigation began in May and more than 70 deputies served 15 search warrants and arrest warrants.
First and foremost, the safety of children in Tulare County is of the utmost importance, he said.
“Safety for our children is an absolute must and priority each and every day,” he said.
Crimes against children can easily shock the senses and this is case is no exception. What detectives recently uncovered will be upsetting to people in Tulare County and the information provided will be limited to protect the victims, some of whom are as young as 14.
The Sheriff’s Office began this investigation into a human trafficking ring that identified more than a combined number of 50 juveniles and adults in Tulare County for sexual exploitation and for monetary gain.
Through good detective work in the Sheriff’s Juvenile Crimes Unit and with assistance from the newly created Cyber Crimes Unit, three men were arrested Thursday on human trafficking and related charges.
With crimes such as this one in mind, Sheriff Boudreaux created the Cyber Crimes Unit with a vision for the future to better combat crimes committed via the internet.
The three men responsible for this trafficking organization have been arrested. They have been identified as Antonio Alvarez, 34, of Visalia, Joel Mancini, 40, of Visalia, and Anthony Raya, 19, of Dinuba.
Also arrested today, were 11 co-conspirators. Deputies are on the lookout for a 12th co-conspirator, Jose Manzo, 23, of Visalia, who reportedly has a 16-year-old female with him.
For the safety and welfare of the victims involved, this human trafficking case, which put lives in danger, culminated today, Sheriff Boudreaux said.
“We could not wait any longer to take down this operation,” he said. “This is definitely a human trafficking case.”
Human trafficking is a type of modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud or coercion for some type of labor or sex act.
To help the victims recover and heal, we have partnered with Child Welfare Services, Family Services of Tulare County and the District Attorney’s Victim Witness program. Together, the necessary support is provided to help turn the lives around for victims of human trafficking in Tulare County.
Through contacts in the community, Detectives became aware of this very disturbing illegal operation that exploits young women, including juveniles, and two juvenile males. Juvenile Crimes detectives filed more than 75 search warrants with various social media sites and cell phone numbers and combed through 50,000 pages of messages to identify victims, including 23 juveniles, ages 14-17, and 29 adults, ages 18-37.
The number of victims, unfortunately, is expected to increase. Detectives will be interviewing during the next two days and beyond.
“This case is by no means finished,” Sheriff Boudreaux said.
The leader of this human trafficking organization lured his victims into prostitution through a fraudulent social media page whose images of a young woman were stolen from an unrelated real person in another state.
The primary suspect, who portrayed himself as a young woman, befriended the victims on Facebook, and groomed them for sexual exploitation.
The suspect, Antonio Alvarez, coached the victims to tell their parents that they were going to a friend’s house or they were going out to play Pokémon Go to lure them out of the house.
It appears parents have been completely unaware.
“To the victims and their families, our hearts go out to you,” he said. “We are here for you.”
Victims are being contacted by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, interviewed by detectives and offered counseling through Family Services of Tulare County. This nonprofit helps both juvenile and adult victims of human trafficking with crisis response, advocacy, case management, and emergency assistance.
Child Welfare Services participated today as well. Social workers are meeting with victims to get them what they need. If necessary, CWS can remove a juvenile from his or her home if it’s discovered the parents were aware of the situation and did nothing to stop it.
Child Welfare Services provides training throughout the county about how to recognize human trafficking victims and how to respond to them. On Monday, CWS offered a training to detectives involved in Operation Baby Face.
The District Attorney’s Victim/Witness Assistance Division helps victims apply for assistance from the California Victim and Government Claims Board (www.vcgcb.ca.gov). Losses covered include: medical and counseling services and relocation expenses for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. It also offers court support for those victims called to testify in a criminal jury trial.
Special thanks goes out to Tulare County Health & Human Services as well as the District Attorney’s Victim/Witness Assistance Division.
For parents: Sheriff Boudreaux encourages parents to talk with their children about what children are doing online and how it could possibly lead to victimization. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely the group arrested today are the only ones involved in human trafficking in Tulare County.
“Talk to your children,” he said. “You are the parents. Look at what your children are doing online. Be a concerned and protective parent.”
Sadly, Sheriff Boudreaux has placed one of his correctional deputies on administrative leave pending an investigation into the deputy possibly having information related to this case or being involved as a co-conspirator. This is a personnel matter and no criminal charges have been filed at this time pending the outcome of the investigation."