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Bill would add hotels, motels to human trafficking fight

A new Senate bill looks to address human trafficking where the crimes often occur: hotels and motels.

Senate Bill 225, introduced earlier this month by Sen. Henry Stern, D-Agoura Hills, would add hotels and motels to the list of businesses that are required to post signs with hotline numbers people can call or text if they suspect human trafficking or need assistance.

Human trafficking involves not only forced prostitution but also forced labor.

Such signs are already required at certain locations, including massage parlors, urgent care facilities, truck stops, bus and rail stations, and adult and sexually-oriented businesses.

Stern said including hotels and motels on that list would “plug a loophole” that’s existed for too long.

“We’ve seen the effectiveness of the hotline as a tool to shine the light on this pox in our society,” Stern said. “What we found is hotels and motels tend to be a major target for perpetrating these crimes of human trafficking. There are all kinds of activities that go on and people don’t say anything, so what we want to do is arm the employees and customers with information so if they see something, they know who to call.”

The hotline numbers are available 24 hours, seven days a week and are accessible in over 160 languages. Callers can leave messages anonymously. If the bill is passed, hotels and motels that do not comply will be fined $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

Stern’s bill taps into the larger problem of tracking illegal activities at private businesses. According to a 2012 study released by the California Department of Justice, human trafficking “can be facilitated by businesses that promote the crime or accept bribes to remain silent.”

According to the study, from Jan. 1, 2007, to Sept. 30, 2012, the California Department of Justice made 441 arrests and 113 convictions for human trafficking in Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, Riverside, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Santa Clara counties.

Those numbers do not include alternative penal code sections prosecutors use to charge suspects connected to human trafficking. Prosecutors also use pimping and pandering laws, which require proof of fewer legal elements than human trafficking, making the likelihood of conviction greater, according to the study.

In Ventura County, the District Attorney’s Office filed 12 pimping cases from 2012 to 2016. The office filed two cases of human trafficking last year and one in 2015.

In some of those cases, arrests were made after months of investigating human trafficking suspects operating out of hotels and motels. (Read full article here)

Ex-probation officer sentenced for child porn

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(Photo: Ventura County Sheriff’s Office)

A former Ventura County probation officer was sentenced Friday to a year in jail and five years of probation involving child pornography charges.

James Richard Schmitt, 54, pleaded guilty in December to two felony charges of possession of child pornography and was sentenced in Ventura County Superior Court.

Schmitt, who was working as a senior deputy probation officer, was arrested after a joint investigation by the FBI and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation found that the Oxnard man had been using an online service that provided content involving sexually exploited children.

According to the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office, Yahoo in 2014 found certain account holders based in the Philippines were using its service to traffic child pornography. Yahoo tracked the seller accounts to buyer accounts all around the world, prosecutors said. (Read full article here)

Man gets five years for human trafficking

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(Photo: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/VENTURA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE)

A Fresno man was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison for human trafficking, officials said.

Demarea Williams, 23, pleaded guilty Jan. 4 in Ventura County Superior Court to a felony charge of human trafficking, authorities said. ​

Williams was arrested by Ventura police on Dec. 20 after they received reports of a woman possibly being held against her will and forced to engage in prostitution, authorities said.

Police found the 21-year-old woman at La Quinta Inn in the 5800 block of Valentine Road, authorities said. Williams and a woman were arrested at the scene, authorities reported.

Investigators alleged the 21-year-old victim had been trafficked in California, Texas and Arizona. (Read article here)

3 ARRESTED IN SEX PREDATOR STING OPERATION IN VENTURA AFTER DETECTIVES POSE AS TEENS IN ONLINE CHAT ROOMS

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From left: Jose Juan Ramualdo-Posadas, Christopher Allen Bouchard and Reynal Reginio Guillen are seen in booking photos after being arrested in a sexual predator sting operation. (Ventura Police Department)

Three alleged sexual predators have been arrested in Ventura after detectives posed as teenage girls in internet chat rooms, authorities announced Tuesday.

Christopher Allen Bouchard, 48, of La Crescenta, Reynal Reginio Guillen, 54, of Sherman Oaks, and Jose Juan Ramualdo-Posadas, 32, of Corona, were taken into custody without incident Friday after engaging in online conversations with investigators and arriving at an agreed-upon location, police said.

The multi-agency sting was conducted by personnel from the Ventura Police Department, Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney’s Office and Human Traffic Enforcement Team, according to a news release.

Detectives, posing as 14- and 15-year-old girls, entered various chat rooms “primarily designed for teens,” the statement said.

“As the investigation unfolded, adult male sexual predators got onto the same chat room and contacted the undercover officer,” the news release said. “Each of the suspects engaged (the officer) in sexually explicit conversation, describing in detail what sex acts they wanted to perform with the teenage girl.”

According to authorities, each suspect agreed to meet and pick up the girl at or near what they believed was the teen’s home in the 2100 block of Victoria Avenue. (Read full article here)