UPDATE, AUG. 16, 12:04 P.M.: Through the court affidavit and his appearance before a federal magistrate in Santa Ana Monday afternoon, we now know Samuel Martinez Gonzalez's side of the story that has him facing a maximum sentence of life behind bars if convicted.
The 26-year-old Santa Ana man claims that while visiting Texas, a friend asked him to bring her and her friends back to California with him.
Oh, and while Gonzalez did not know the girls or their names, he was sure they must be 18 or 19 years old.
Federal prosecutors are telling a much different tale. Based on the affidavit, the investigation and City News Service reporting, the following additional details about the case--Gonzalez is accused of bringing three minor girls from Texas to Orange County to work for him as prostitutes--have been made public:
- The girls lived in Irving, Texas, and Gonzalez drove them to California.
- The store Gonzalez is said to have taken the girls to was a Wal-Mart, and the clothing he sought for them was allegedly "hoochie dresses."
- He took the girls to a restaurant where he suppoedly revealed he expected them to work as prostitutes.
- He is accused of force-feeding the girls drugs.
- The Orange establishment where two of the girls--ages 15 and 16--were found Friday night was a Motel 6. Investigators say they found empty boxes of condoms in the room.
- Investigators claim to have found receipts in Gonzalez's wallet for condoms.
- A check of Gonzalez's cell phone log included a call from someone who wanted to arrange sexual services, say investigators.
The federal judge ordered Gonzalez held without bond. He is due back in Santa Ana court for a hearing on Aug. 29 and arraignment on Sept. 6.
ORIGINAL POST, AUG. 15, 1:31 P.M.: Fresh from Texas, Samuel Martinez Gonzalez, 26, of Santa Ana, is due in the federal courthouse in his hometown at 2 this afternoon.
He'll be answering charges related to what he is alleged to have brought back from the Lone Star State.
Actually, it's who he is said to have brought back: three teenage girls Gonzalez is accused of enlisting to work for him as prostitutes--and what one federal agent called the fulfillment of "every parent's worst nightmare."
Agents and investigators from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Orange County Sheriff's Department arrested Gonzalez Friday night as he walked down Elk Lane near the 5 freeway in Santa Ana, according to a statement from Thom Mrozek, public affairs officer with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles.
With Gonazlez were three females, including a teenage girl from Texas, according to a criminal complaint filed this morning in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana that charges the man with transporting minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. Another girl with Gonzalez was also a teenager forced into prostitution by Gonzalez, the complaint adds.
Orange Police about an hour later discovered the other two Texas teens at a motel there. According to the statement supplied by Mrozek:
The two girls in the motel room--who are 15 and 16 years old--told agents they were relieved they had been rescued and looked forward to being reunited with their families, according to the affidavit. The three Texas teens are currently in protective custody, and a fourth girl, also believed to be a victim who was forced to work as a prostitute, is now being cared for by a family member.
Authorities learned about the missing girls on Aug. 12, when the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was contacted by the relative of one of the Texas teens who disappeared with two friends. They may have been in Orange County, California, the center was reportedly told by the relative, and the caller provided a cell phone number.
An HSI investigator was told over the phone by one girl that Gonzalez had invited her and the others to California to "go to the beach," but when the girls arrived here, Gonzalez took them shopping not for beachwear but dresses and high heels they would wear for their "job," reads the sex-trafficking affidavit.
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"Predators who sexually exploit young people should realize that their unspeakable acts will not go unpunished," U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. says in the press statement. "Child exploitation crimes are among the most important cases we prosecute, and we will spare no effort in prosecuting criminals who seek to take advantage of young victims."
Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens is also quoted saying, "This arrest reinforces the importance of the working relationship that sheriff's investigators have formed with ICE agents. Taking a suspect like this off the streets makes our community safer for children and sends a message to others who prey on children that their criminal activities will be discovered and they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
The charge of transporting minors in interstate commerce for the purpose of prostitution carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in federal prison and a maximum of life behind bars.
"This is every parent's worst nightmare," Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for ICE HSI in Los Angeles, said of the case. "Fortunately, because of the extraordinary cooperation and aggressive efforts by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as well as the law enforcement agencies involved in this case, the three Texas girls were rescued before they could be forced to engage in any acts of prostitution. ICE HSI will continue to work closely with its law enforcement counterparts here and around the world to protect young people from sexual exploitation."