By LAURA AUSTIN News Review Staff Writer– Twelve suspects were arrested when, over the last two months, four Ridgecrest Police Officers, Sergeant Groves, and Detectives Pietrangelo, Arnold, and Stangle conducted an undercover operation. The operation was specifically designed to target online child predators or those who wished to exploit children. During this time, Detectives posed as minor children (Decoy) on various social media sites/applications, where adults were engaging in sexually explicit conversations, hoping to meet the child with sexual intent.
While conducting this operation, Detectives with the Ridgecrest Police Department arrested 12 suspects aged 22-71. Of the 12 arrested, eight were Ridgecrest residents, including two active-duty individuals employed at the Naval Air Weapons Station. Grove said four suspects arrested were from other cities and traveled three or more hours to Ridgecrest to meet with minors.
The ages of the “Decoy” ranged from 12-16.
The following suspects were arrested during this operation: Arnold Oscar Danielson (71 ) Ridgecrest, Antonio Ramirez (32), Lancaster, CA, Ryan Junior Herrera (23), Ridgecrest, Eric Randall Fields (32), Ridgecrest, Brian Joseph Sardisco (29), Torrance, CA Gilbert Ocampo Calderon (52), Ridgecrest, Freddie Cuizon Patindol (42), Ridgecrest, Jorge Vizcarra (22), Sanger CA, Fransico Crescencio (26), Ridgecrest, Whitt Clifford Mitchell (28), Weldon CA, Mark Jansen Simeon Agpalasin (34), Ridgecrest, and Jaime Puebla Martinez (28), of Ridgecrest.
According to RPD Sgt. Bill Groves, bail amounts for the individuals arrested started at $55,000. “Typically, for those who don’t post bail, the judge would raise the bail to $100,000. At least one suspect is still in custody on a $100,000 bail,” Groves said.
A similar sting operation was conducted two years ago, resulting in eight or nine arrests. However, according to Sgt Groves, this recent sting operation resulted in the most significant number of arrests in the department’s history. Groves said the department had not received many complaints from local parents regarding their children being contacted on social media for suspicious reasons, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening here. “We honestly think it’s due to the parents not being aware of who their kids are talking to. A lot of times, these sexual predators will groom these kids for weeks at a time to engage in these meet-ups. Often, these kids are too embarrassed to go to their parents and tell them what happened.” Groves stressed the importance of parents being involved in what their children are doing on social media sites.
Groves also said parents can look at their children’s phones, keep track of who is talking to their kids, and let them know the dangers out there. These people (predators) are out there… It is in our community, and it is happening.”
Social media sites used by the officers included Grindr and Tinder, among others. Parents are encouraged to contact the police department if they have concerns or need information on how to track their child’s cell phone and the social media applications that predators have been found using in efforts to contact minors.
“These kids are unknowingly putting themselves out there, and, ultimately, they are paying the price to become these victims,” Groves said.
“The parents need to be aware of that. Just because it is a series of emojis, it might mean something different that the parents don’t realize. A simple Google list of the emojis will tell parents what some of this stuff means… These sexual predators are banking on the fact that the parents are not involved in their children’s lives, and that’s why they are getting away with it.”
Groves said of the 12 arrested that some suspects were “looking for a more sinister human trafficking approach.”
The Ridgecrest police also stressed that although we are isolated here in Ridgecrest, many suspects came from other cities to engage in illegal activity with minors. Unfortunately, during these times, people who wish to exploit children use all types of social media applications.
For more information, contact the Ridgecrest Police Dept. at (760) 499-5100.