Service Member At U.S. Naval Air Station In Lemoore Pleads Guilty To Sex Trafficking Of A Minor
FRESNO, Calif. —Charles Ray Benavidez, 33, an Aviation Ordnanceman Second Class, serving at the Naval Air Station Lemoore, pleaded guilty today to one count of sex trafficking of a minor, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
According to court documents, in April 2013, Benavidez knowingly recruited a 17-year-old female to engage in commercial sex acts in Kings and Tulare Counties. Benavidez was indicted in May 16, 2013, and has been in federal custody since May 23, 2013.
“This office is committed to doing all we can to protect our children from the plague of prostitution,” said U.S. Attorney Wagner. “We will identify, prosecute and punish the criminals who treat young girls as if they were commodities in the sex trade.”
“This defendant was sworn to defend this country, yet his callous and calculating actions put a trusting teenager directly in harm’s way,” said Mike Prado, resident agent in charge for HSI Fresno. “HSI will continue to work closely with its federal and local partners to target sexual predators, like this individual, who ruthlessly exploit vulnerable young people for their own gratification and greed.”
Benavidez is scheduled to be sentenced by Senior United States District Judge Anthony W. Ishii on March 17, 2014. He faces a minimum statutory sentence of 10 years in prison. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Central California Internet Crimes Against Children task force, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), and the Porterville, Tulare, and Lemoore police departments. Assistant United States Attorney Brian W. Enos is prosecuting the case.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the United States Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood Marshals, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute those who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc. Click on the “resources” tab for information about Internet Safety.