Nine arrested by MPD for human trafficking and other charges

The Merced Police Department has identified the trafficking of human beings as an issue that directly threatens the citizens of our community and that has devastating, long lasting consequences for its victims, their families, and our community as a whole.

Because criminals involved in the trafficking of other human beings are targeting children and any persons they can induce, trick, or kidnap into exploitation the Merced Police Department has made locating trafficking victims, arresting traffickers, and arresting any persons involved or willing to engage in the sexual exploitation of others a top priority.

Traffickers commonly use internet sites to advertise their victims for sale and to conduct their business. Using Smart phones and the internet allows trafficking activities to go unnoticed by law enforcement because the traffickers can remain out of public view to meet, negotiate payments, and have their victims engage in prostitution activities while remaining under the control of their traffickers.

The internet underground market place makes it very difficult for law enforcement to identify victims or to control and monitor the activities of these criminals. While the Merced Police makes an effort and conducts investigations into prostitution it is also important to do operations targeting the people purchasing the sex acts. By targeting the demand for the traffickers’ products we can reduce monetary incentives and move these activities out of the City of Merced and make our children and families safer from these crimes and other crimes related to these activities.

In February of 2017 Officers of the Merced Police Department’s DART (Disruptive Area Response Team) at the direction of Chief Norman Andrade began an undercover internet sting operation targeting traffickers and any people actively using the internet to engage in sexual activities, especially those involving juveniles.

From February to April of 2017 Officers conducted operations targeting people willing to arrange to have sexual relations with juveniles. Officers posted non-sexual advertisements and when contacted by the suspects, would engage in online conversations where the suspects would make arrangements to engage in sex acts after being told that the person they were arranging to have sex with were juveniles.

In addition to crimes covering human trafficking, there are several crimes that make arranging to engage in sex acts with a minor and sending harmful matter to children illegal under California law.
The goal of this operation was to target the people willing to arrange sexual acts with children and to make clear to everyone that contact with our children for sexual exploitation will not be tolerated and that anyone involved in these activities will be investigated and arrested.

The results of the operation are as follows:

Aaron Shomber

On February 20th 2017, officers of the DART unit arrested Aaron Shomber (48) at a local fast food restaurant after he arranged to meet a juvenile for sex acts in exchange for narcotics. Shomber was booked at the Merced County Jail for 288.4(b) PC Contact with a minor with intent to commit a sex offense.
He is currently serving a 180 day sentence.

James Craven

On February 22nd 2017, officers of the DART unit arrested James Craven (36) in Steven Leanord Park after he arranged to meet a juvenile in the park and take her to his house to engage in sexual acts. Craven was booked at the Merced County Main Jail for 288.3(a) PC, Contact with a minor with intent to commit sexual offense.

Joshua Hernandez

On March 1st 2017, officers of the DART Unit arrested Joshua Hernandez (23) at a residence in Merced when he arrived at the location to meet a juvenile, provide narcotics and to perform sex acts with the juvenile. Hernandez was booked at the Merced County Main Jail for 288.3(a) PC. He was released after posting $5000 bond.

Lionel Falcon

On March 6th 2017, officers of the DART Unit arrested Lionel Falcon (53) at a residence in Merced after he arrived at the location to engage in sex acts with a juvenile. Falcon was booked at the Merced County Main Jail for 288.3(a) PC.  He was released after posting $5000 bond.

Verne Elledge

On March 13th 2017, officers of the DART Unit arrested Verne Elledge (54) at a residence in Merced after he arrived at the location to engage in sex acts with a juvenile. Elledge was booked at the Merced County Main Jail for 288.3(a) PC.

Jim Garewal

On March 15th 2017, officers of the DART Unit arrested Jim Garewal (61) near Golden Valley High School after he arranged to have a juvenile ditch school and leave with him to engage in sex acts. Garewal was booked at the Merced County Main Jail for 288.3(a) PC.  He is currently serving a 120 day sentence.

Shawn Vargas

On March 21st 2017, officers of the DART Unit arrested Shawn Vargas (28) at a residence in Merced after he arrived to meet a juvenile for sex acts and for sending pornographic material to a minor. Vargas was booked at the Merced County Main Jail for 288.3(a) PC and 288.2(a)(2) PC.

Randy Golder

On March 22nd 2017, officers of the DART Unit arrested Randy Golder (50) at his residence for sending harmful matter to a minor. Golder was booked at the Merced County Main Jail for 288.2(a) (2) PC.

Dpmingo Gevana

On March 22nd, 2017 officers of the DART Unit arrested Domingo Gevana (56) at a residence in Merced after he arrived to perform sex acts with a juvenile. Gevana was booked the Merced County Main Jail for 288.3(a) PC. He was released after posting $5000 bond.

While this operation has concluded, officers of the DART Unit and Merced Police Department Investigations Division continue to follow up on these and any other cases involving allegations of Human Trafficking and prostitution.

Members of the Merced Police Department and the Law Enforcement community ask that anyone with information regarding Human Trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children to please report the information.

We also implore parents to be mindful of their children’s online activity and social media profiles and to educate them on what to do when their children are contacted by strangers online so that they will not become victims of traffickers targeting children through the internet.

Merced Police are asking anyone with any information regarding the above cases to contact DART Unit Sgt. Ward at (209) 385-8840, or the Merced Police Department Tipster Line at (209) 385-4725. The public can send information via anonymous text messages to police department by dialing “TIP411” (847411) and including the word “Comvip” as the “keyword” in the text message.