PALM DESERT, Calif. - Two men from the valley are among 12 in the Inland Empire charged with child sexual exploitation. Jarrett Wayne Martindale, Jr., 26, of La Quinta was indicted for distributing, receiving, and possessing child pornography. He pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography and is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 21.
Michael Weitzel, 56, of Palm Desert was charged in a felony information with possessing child pornography; a plea agreement has been filed in which Weitzel agrees to plead guilty to the charge; a warrant for Weitzel's arrest has been issued.
The charges are the result of a coordinated federal enforcement effort involving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California. The Riverside County District Attorney's Office also provided substantial support with several of the cases.
Darian Anthony Tillman, 21, has signed a plea agreement admitting that he falsely identified himself as "Taylor Popov" and enticed a 15-year-old male victim to send sexually explicit videos and photographs of himself to Tillman. Tillman then threatened to send those images to the victim's family if the teen did not comply with further demands for more sexual videos and photos. Tillman specifically directed the victim to pose in humiliating positions. According to the publicly filed documents resulting from the FBI probe, Tillman manipulated and abused at least four minors in this manner. On Monday, the government filed the plea agreement and information charging Tillman with enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity. He is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 28 in Riverside federal court.
Also charged as part of this effort was Christine Diane Foster, 39, of Fontana. Foster was indicted Aug. 14 on charges of sexual exploitation of a child and distribution of child pornography arising from a probe by HSI in conjunction with the Riverside County District Attorney's Office. According to publicly filed documents, Foster took pornographic pictures of a 3-year-old toddler in her care and distributed the images using her cell phone. While she was taking the photographs, Foster exchanged sexually explicit text message conversations with another person. Foster is scheduled to be arraigned Sept. 4 in Riverside federal court.
Authorities advise the investigations into the activities of both Tillman and Foster are ongoing and there is concern there may be unidentified juvenile victims. Officials released mug shots of both defendants and asked the public to contact law enforcement if they have information that may be relevant to either case. Information related to defendant Foster should be directed to ICE's toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423 or by completing its online tip form. Any leads related to the FBI's ongoing investigation into defendant Tillman should be referred to the FBI's local tip line 310-477-6565, which is staffed around the clock
A third case brought as part of the enforcement effort involved two individuals from Apple Valley who allegedly forced their minor victim to prostitute herself. Based upon evidence developed by the FBI, Tabitha Walls and Kenyati Potts were charged Aug. 9 in a criminal complaint with child sex trafficking and transporting minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. According to the complaint affidavit, Walls and Potts met their 17-year-old victim in Las Vegas earlier this summer and forced her to come to California. From a home base in Apple Valley, the defendants forced the girl to work as a prostitute throughout the Inland Empire, Los Angeles and Hollywood. The victim was beaten and threatened with death if she tried to leave. Potts is detained pending further proceedings, while Walls was released on bond. They are scheduled to be arraigned Sept. 18 in Riverside federal court.
The other six defendants charged with sexual exploitation crimes as part of this initiative are:
§ Michael Lee Lewis, 65, of Ontario, who was indicted for advertising, distributing, receiving and possessing child pornography. He is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 23 in Los Angeles;
§ Ryan Christopher Edgecomb, 32, of Murrieta, who was indicted for distributing, receiving and possessing child pornography; his trial is scheduled for Sept. 10 in Riverside;
§ Theodore William Reed, 58, of Victorville, who was indicted for failure to register as a sex offender and for whom an arrest warrant has been issued.
§ Skyler J. Olberding, 26, of Washington, Iowa, was indicted for possessing child pornography; a warrant for Olberding's arrest has been issued;
§ John Michael Dragan, 64, of Moreno Valley, who was indicted for receiving and possessing child pornography. His arraignment is set for Aug. 27 in Los Angeles; and
§ Theron Charles Barron, 21, of Rialto, who was indicted for distributing, receiving, and possessing child pornography; a plea agreement has been filed in which Barron agrees to plead guilty to possession of child pornography; he is scheduled to plead guilty Aug. 19 in Riverside.
Indictments, informations and criminal complaints contain allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty in court.
The charge of enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The charges of sexual exploitation of a child and advertising child pornography each carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum sentence of 30 years. The charge of sexual trafficking of a minor carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The charge of transportation of minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The charge of failure to register as a sex offender carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The charges of distribution of child pornography and receipt of child pornography each carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum sentence of 20 years. The charge of possession of child pornography carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
The charges in these cases were brought as part of Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI initiative; the FBI's Innocent Images and Innocence Lost initiatives; and Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide effort launched by the Department of Justice in 2006 to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline or by using 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, 1-800-843-5678.
The cases against Tillman, Reed, Lewis, Dragan, Walls, Potts and Weitzel were investigated by the FBI and its law enforcement partners under the auspices of the FBI's Innocent Images and Innocence Lost national initiatives, each addressing various crimes involving the sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of children. Additional information about these initiatives may be found at this link: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/vc_majorthefts/cac.
Led by the U.S. Attorneys' Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute those who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.usdoj.gov/psc. Click on the "resources" tab for information about Internet safety education.