Shelter Worker Charged With Attempting to Coerce and Entice An Unaccompanied Alien Minor
Benjamin G. Greenberg, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; Special Agent in Charge Shimon R. Richmond of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Miami Regional Office; and Mark Selby, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), Miami Field Office, announced the Indictment of Merice Perez Colon.
The Indictment charges Perez Colon, 35, of Homestead, Florida with attempted coercion and enticement of a minor to engage in illicit sexual activity and attempted production of child pornography, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 2422(b) and 2251(a) (Case No. 17-CR-20375). A criminal complaint was also filed against the defendant. At the time the charged offenses were allegedly committed, Perez Colon was employed as a youth care worker at an emergency influx shelter in Homestead that provides services to unaccompanied alien children present in the United States.
Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg said, “All shelters, including those that take in unaccompanied minors who arrive in the United States without adult supervision, should be safe havens. Youth workers have a duty to protect and serve the minors who reside at these shelters and are under their care. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners stand united against child exploitation and abuse that is carried out against minor residents, citizens, or refugees. Any individual who victimizes these children will face severe consequences within the federal criminal justice system. We implore anyone with information regarding these offenses to contact the police.”
HHS-OIG Special Agent in Shimon R. Richmond stated, “Our society expects youth workers and other caretakers to protect all children, including those under the U.S. government’s care,” said Shimon R. Richmond, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. “Our agents, working closely with our partners, will continue to investigate those who violate their position of trust by sexually exploiting and abusing minors. Those who commit such horrible crimes will be brought to justice.”
“Children are some of the most vulnerable members of our society and there is no bigger betrayal than when those entrusted with their protection abuse that trust,” said Mark Selby, Special Agent in Charge, ICE-HSI. “The men and women of HSI are committed to bringing anyone who preys on our children to justice. We encourage anyone who may have additional information regarding this case to contact us by calling 866-DHS-2ICE (866-347-2423).”
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.
If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum term of life imprisonment.
A criminal complaint and Indictment merely contain accusations. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Mr. Greenberg commends HHS-OIG and ICE-HSI for the investigative assistance provided in support of this matter. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jonathan Kobrinski.