SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A 58-year-old man was arrested Wednesday in Caguas by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents for sexually enticing a minor.
HSI special agents arrested Benerado Mercado-Rivera, of Humacao, immediately after he showed up at Las Catalinas Mall in Caguas where he was supposed to meet what he believed to be a 13-year-old girl.
"HSI and our partners will continue identifying, apprehending and prosecuting those who attempt against the most vulnerable segment of our society – our children, said Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI San Juan. "Through Project iGuardian we will continue educating our children, parents and teachers on the dangers of unsafe internet browsing and how to avoid falling prey to child predators."
The HSI investigation against Mercado-Rivera stemmed from a referral by a concerned mother of a 14-year-old girl who discovered sexually explicit text messages in her daughter's cellular telephone. According to the criminal complaint, Mercado-Rivera requested, from whom he believed to be a 13-year-old girl, sexually explicit pictures so he could be happy and proud of her. The criminal complaint further alleges that Mercado-Rivera engaged in sexually explicit conversations with the minor and that he wanted to transport the minor to a motel in Caguas with the intent to engage in criminal sexual conduct. On April 23, Mercado-Rivera arrived at the location where he was supposed to meet the minor. HSI special agents arrested him without incident.
Mercado-Rivera had his initial hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sylvia CarreÃ±o Thursday. He was transferred to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo awaiting the outcome of his case.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Maconiates.
In response to the need for an island-wide approach to fighting the escalation of predatory crimes against children, HSI San Juan partnered with members of local, state and federal law enforcement, as well as local and state government officials and community leaders, to form the Puerto Rico Crimes Against Children Task Force (PRCACTF) in June 2011.
Through PRCACTF, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies work together with local and state government agencies to effectively pool their resources to jointly investigate all crimes against children in Puerto Rico. Through the task force, law enforcement officers are encouraged to share evidence, ideas, and investigative and forensic tools to ensure the most successful prosecutions possible. As such, PRCACTF allows law enforcement to speak with one unified voice in defense of the children of Puerto Rico.
The investigation is part of HSI's Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 10,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2013, more than 2,000 individuals were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.
HSI is a founding member and current chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.