MCALLEN, Texas – A joint operation between the FBI and several Texas police departments near the border has resulted in multiple arrests of suspected online predators, and authorities are concerned about the overwhelming response to their sting operation. Within four days, five men were arrested after responding to what they believed was an invitation from a 14-year-old girl to meet them for sex. Additional arrests are expected in the coming days.
“In the past, we used to be able to lock our front doors and think we were safe,” said McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez. “Those times are gone. There are bad people in your homes. There are bad people using social media and electronic devices to violate your children’s privacy. There are bad people looking to injure your children.”
For the sting, undercover detectives posed as a 14-year-old girl on the social media network Mocospace.
“In a matter of hours, we had several individuals making approaches to our victims,” Rodriguez said. “The individuals we arrested were the ones that had crossed over to the point where they thought they were going to meet the 14-year-old victim.”
For the operation, McAllen Police detectives worked with Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Deputies and FBI agents in order to track and apprehend the suspects, some of whom may have been outside of McAllen or Hidalgo County’s jurisdiction.
The five suspects all lived in border cities and were identified as:
- Samuel Eduardo Flores, 42 from Sullivan City
- Rodrigo Salinas, 26, from McAllen
- Juan Manuel Pacheco, 28, from Alamo
- Jesus Ocanas Gonzalez, 50, from Pharr
- Marco Antonio Avila, 24, from Alamo
The overwhelming response should be seen as a wake-up call to parents, said Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra.
“Parents need to be proactive, talk to their children, and be vigilant,” Guerra said. “You have individuals out there talking to your children who may not be who they claim to be.”
Of the five individuals arrested in the case, one of them is a registered sex offender who is currently serving probation, said Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez. Prosecutors will continue to focus on prosecuting and convicting individuals who seek to prey on children, Rodriguez added.
Sam Miranda, who heads the FBI office in McAllen, said that in the case of sexual predators, what is alarming is that offenders escalate over time.
“This is not a victimless crime,” Miranda said. “These individuals will progress from chats to photographs to physical acts where they recruit and violate. If you reach out to our children, we will find you, we will arrest you, and we will prosecute you vigorously,” he warned.