VISALIA, California (KSEE) – More than a dozen men are facing charges in Tulare County after a two-month online predator sting operation.
Operation Safe Teen led to the arrest of 13 alleged child predators.
Investigators said the men, aged 21 to 52, used ‘pedophile grooming techniques’ on decoys posing as boys and girls ages 12 to 17.
“They offered gifts, they offered money, and the 13 individuals were taken into custody because they showed up,” Capt. Chris Wenzinger of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office said Monday.
Wenzinger said the suspects showed up at a pre-chosen location over the weekend, to allegedly have sex with a minor. They found undercover officers instead.
Wenzinger said too often these scenarios are not a set up.
“It’s just very important for parents to be involved, know what their kids are looking at on social media and being involved in their lives,” he said.
All the men face felony charges, but ten were released almost immediately because of the zero-dollar bail system.
“I think unfortunately it sends a message to criminals that you won’t be held in custody,” said Tulare County Deputy District Attorney Erica Gonzalez.
Gonzalez said they understand community concerns and oppose the mandate.
“We get individuals who are released and commit another offense, and then are arrested and then released again, and they commit another offense and are arrested and released again. And we have seen that and we have tried our best to appear at those arraignments to oppose their release.”
Wenzinger says it’s frustrating to see people just being released, but being aware and involved can significantly help guard against this type of crime.
“This was about catching people that were using social media to hurt our children, but that does not mean that there are not people out there really doing this, because they are.”
This is the third operation of this type undertaken by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office this year.
Anyone with information on crimes against children is encouraged to contact the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office at (559)733-6218. They can remain anonymous by calling or texting (559)725-4194 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.