Ten Mexico nationals living illegally in Minnesota have been arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and Austin, Minn., police amid accusations that the men paid a woman to allow them to have sex with her 14-year-old female relative in exchange for cellular telephone minutes and money.
The men were taken into custody on Wednesday night as part of “Operation Predator,” an ICE initiative aimed at protecting children worldwide from pornographers, child-prostitution rings, Internet predators and human traffickers.
Since the initiative began in July 2003, ICE agents nationwide have arrested more than 3,300 people suspected of being sexual predators, including 90 in Minnesota. More than 1,000 of them have been deported in that period, and others are awaiting deportation.
“This is a prime example of how law-enforcement agencies can work together for the good of the community,” said ICE Agent Mark Cangemi, who leads the agency’s Bloomington, Minn., field office. “This whole incident is a tragedy. We’re glad we could help put an end to the child’s suffering.”
According to Austin police, Rhonda Garcia-Lopez, 23, arranged for the child to have sex with numerous men over a three-month period. The police sought ICE assistance in apprehending the men.
ICE agents provided translations, fraudulent document identification and legal status determination. Noncitizens convicted of crimes are eligible for removal from the United States.
Austin police Chief Paul Philipp said investigators think there were as many as 40 incidents over a three-month period involving the girl. He declined to say how the girl and Miss Garcia-Lopez were related. Miss Garcia-Lopez was charged with 10 counts of prostitution.
ICE spokesman Dean Boyd said the removal from this country of criminal aliens convicted of sex crimes is a goal of Operation Predator. He said the program integrates the agency’s ability to target those who exploit children and to coordinate once-fragmented investigative and intelligence resources into a united campaign against child predators.
As part of the program, ICE officials partner with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to facilitate the exchange of information on missing children, as well as investigative intelligence leads.
For the first time, Mr. Boyd said, an ICE senior special agent has been assigned to the center to coordinate leads requiring law-enforcement attention.
ICE officials also worked with the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Secret Service and Justice Department to develop a National Child Victim Identification Program. It is the nation’s first program that uses child-pornography images to help authorities worldwide identify and rescue at-risk children.
The Patriot Act, passed by Congress in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, has provided ICE with what Mr. Boyd called the necessary legal tools to effectively combat crimes committed online and electronically, giving the agency a new avenue through which to pursue predators and child pornographers.
Austin police said the men, who had multiple forms of fraudulent identification, will face charges in Austin before being turned over to immigration authorities.
Those arrested were Felix Sandoval-Barrios, 31; Ricardo Sandoval-Maldonado, 32; Dionicio Gutierrez-Franco, 23; Miguel Angel Gutierrez-Franco, 19; Jamie Mendoza-Reyes, 29; Jose Luis Nieto-Herrera, 25; Reymundo Ortiz-Garcia, 21; Antonio Rojas-Ortiz, 27; Catalino Silva-Mendoza, 27; and Luis Vasquez-Maldonado, 29.