Crime

Tulare County sheriff busts human trafficking ring

Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux speaks at a news conference about breaking up a human trafficking organization.
Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux speaks at a news conference about breaking up a human trafficking organization. lgriswold@fresnobee.com

Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said a human trafficking organization has been dismantled with the arrest Thursday of the alleged ringleader who used the internet to lure vulnerable girls and young women.

Additionally, 11 men who allegedly procured sex through the human trafficking group were arrested Thursday following a three-month investigation that was dubbed “Operation Baby Face.” They are considered co-conspirators to human trafficking, he said.

“Human trafficking is a type of modern-day slavery” usually involving sex or labor exploitation, Boudreaux said.

In Tulare County, at least 50 juveniles and women were sexually exploited for monetary gain, he said.

A correctional deputy was put on paid administrative leave after investigators learned he had information about the human trafficking organization or may be connected to it, Boudreaux said. His name is not being released pending an investigation.

The alleged ringleader was identified as Antonio Alvarez, 34, of Visalia.

Alavarez set up the Dream Girls Visalia and Dream Girls Fresno websites to find men willing to pay for sex with the women and girls, the sheriff said.

Look at what your children are doing online.

Mike Boudreaux, Tulare County sheriff

Boudreaux said Alvarez lured the women and girls with a social media page using photos stolen from the Facebook page of an unwitting woman in Colorado. With this fake internet identity, Alvarez pretended to be a glamorous young woman – for instance, taking trips to Las Vegas for the weekend – the sheriff said.

When the victims, some as young as 14, tried to escape the human trafficking ring, Alvarez would threaten to release naked photos that he had talked them into sending him, Boudreaux said.

Actress Marisol Nichols, center, speaks about human trafficking at a town hall meeting with Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward, left, and Devon Mathis, an Assembly Member from Tulare County, on Friday night, April 8, 2016 in Visalia.

The parents of the juveniles did not know their children were being victimized because Alvarez taught the girls to have a good cover story, the sheriff said.

“I encourage parents to talk to their children,” Boudreaux said. “Look at what your children are doing online.”

Also arrested were Anthony Raya, 19, of Dinuba, said to be a driver for the organization, and Joel Mancini, 40, the ringleader’s assistant, authorities said.

One man is still being sought as a co-conspirator: Jose Manzo, 23, of Visalia, who is believed to be with a 16-year-old girl, Boudreaux said. Anyone who knows their whereabouts should call the sheriff’s department at 559-733-6218.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold

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