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Coachella is a city in Riverside County, California. It is the easternmost city in the Coachella Valley, in Southern California’s Colorado Desert region. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been widespread and well document throughout Riverside County for decades, and have been identified as substantial problems in many of its communities (e.g., Corona, Hemet, Lake Elsinore, Moreno Valley, Murrieta, Riverside, Temecula) and unincorporated areas of the county, as well as in the city of Coachella. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and federal FBI agents conducted long-term joint investigations into sex trafficking of minors and associated prostitution. Serial killers have specifically targeted prostituted women and girls in the area, and there have been other assaults and homicides of people involved in commercial sex. Relatively recent examples include a 2016 criminal investigation of a Facebook prostitution pandering scheme, where the offender contacted young-looking and underage females throughout Southern California, including the Coachella Valley. A man was eventually convicted and sentenced to 122 years and 8 months to life in prison after being charged with 61 felonies related to sex trafficking.
Another example was an investigation that began in 2017 in response to a presentation on human trafficking at Shadow Hills High School in Indio. It was followed by a tip from two female students who separately provided similar accounts, saying that the same woman had attempted to recruit them for prostitution using Facebook. Court records showed that those actions then sparked an investigation into what eventually revealed more than 69 potential victims over the course of about one year. The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office prosecuted the trafficker on numerous offenses related to facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking of minors. In November, 2020, authorities announced that two men were arrested in a human trafficking investigation in the Coachella Valley. The men were charged with a variety of crimes, including human trafficking of a minor, pimping of a minor, pandering of a minor, unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, oral copulation, and other felonies. As part of a lengthy and ongoing investigation, members of the Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force (RCAHT), with the assistance of the Coachella Valley Violent Crime Gang Task Force, served a search warrant and then made arrests at the 76-000 block of Pierce Street in Thermal. After their arrests, the men were booked into the Riverside County Jail.
Among the consequences of buying sex implemented in Coachella are the loss of employment and identity disclosure of arrested sex buyers. In April, 2021, a man suspected of attempting to purchase the services of a prostituted person while employed as the security director of the Coachella Valley Unified School District was terminated from that position. The man had been charged weeks earlier with one misdemeanor prostitution solicitation count. At the time of his Jan. 27 arrest during a sting operation, district officials announced that he had been placed on administrative leave. In April, officials responded to a weeks-old request for comment regarding his status, and confirmed he was no longer employed by the district. The man was released from his probationary employment with the district as the director of security. The man had been arrested at an unspecified location on Gerald Ford Drive in Palm Desert. The Riverside County’s Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force joined other agencies statewide with the goal of cracking down on suspects involved in prostitution rings and escort services, as well as rescuing the victims. The series of law enforcement operations included arrests in La Quinta, Lake Elsinore, Murrieta, Palm Desert, Riverside and Temecula. Authorities placed decoy advertisements on websites popularly used for soliciting prostitution. Prospective customers who responded to the ads were actually communicating with law enforcement personnel. In all, 62 people were arrested on suspicion of soliciting prostitution, while one person was arrested on suspicion of lewd purposes, and another for allegedly aiding a person to commit prostitution, sheriff’s officials said.
- Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force (RCAHT)
- Riverside County Sheriff’s Office
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Coachella Police Department
- Coachella Valley Unified School District
Identity Disclosure, Loss of Employment:
- https://www.desertsun.com/riverside-county-da-investigator-cvusd-security-director-charged-prostitution-sting (2021)
- https://www.desertsun.com/coachella-valley-unified-school-district-security-director-arrested-prostitution-sting-placed-leave/ (2021)
- https://nbcpalmsprings.com/riverside-county-da-investigator-among-64-arrested-in-prostitution-sting-17-from-the-coachella-valley/ (2021)
- https://patch.com/california/palmdesert/snared-prostitution-sting-cvusd-security-director-loses-job (2021)
- https://kesq.com/former-cvusd-security-director-busted-in-prostitution-sting-pleads-not-guilty/ (2021)
- https://nbcpalmsprings.com/2021/08/12/pretrial-hearing-set-for-cvusd-security-director-busted-in-prostitution-sting/ (2021)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Nine Indicted on Child Sex Trafficking Charges”, San Diego Union-Tribune, December 15 2009.
- “NAACP Riverside Meeting to Focus on Human Exploitation and Trafficking”, Black Voice News, April 14 2011.
- “Human Trafficking a Problem in Inland Area, Police Say”, Riverside Post-Enterprise, April 25 2011.
- “Two Sentenced in Sex-Trafficking Cases”, San Diego Union-Tribune, November 7 2011.
- “CORONA: Human Trafficking a Reality in Inland Area, Expert Says”, Riverside Post-Enterprise, January 26 2012.
- “Federal Indictments in Riverside/LA Prostitution Ring”, ABC/KABC-TV 7, August 9 2012.
- “Riverside: Underage Girls Rescued in Sex Trafficking Sting”, Southwest Riverside News Network, January 29 2013.
- “Moreno Valley Woman Pleads Not Guilty to Prostituting 14-Year-Old Girl”, Southwest Riverside News Network, March 12 2013.
- “Man Charged with 61 Felonies in FB Prostitution Pandering Case,” ABC/KESQ-TV 3, November 19 2015.
- “Valley Children Lead to Sex Trafficking Arrest,” Palm Springs Desert Sun, November 19 2015.
- https://myrcns.com/2020/11/20/second-arrest-made-in-coachella-valley-human-trafficking-case/ (2020)
- https://patch.com/accused-trafficking-girls-sex-desert-man-denies-charges (2022)
Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “The Riverside Prostitute Killer”, Crime Library, TruTV.com.
- William Suff, Wikipedia.
- “Serial Killer Brings Urban Realities to Lake Elsinore”, Los Angeles Times, September 30 1991.
- “Killer in Southern California Preys on Prostitute, Addicts”, Albany Herald, October 31 1991.
- “Suspect Reportedly in Jail in Murders of Prostitutes”, Lodi News-Sentinel, January 14 1992.
- “Nice-Guy Neighbor: Could He Really Be a Serial Killer?”, Los Angeles Times, February 17 1992.
- “A Trail of Death: 3 Years After Arrest, Man to Go on Trial in 13 Slayings”, Los Angeles Times, March 26 1995.
- “Californian Is Guilty in Killing of 12 Prostitutes”, New York Times, July 20 1995.
- “Serial Killer Sentenced to Death”, Los Angeles Times, October 27 1995.
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- https://www.modbee.com/news/local/article3094817.html (2007)
- “Internet Replacing Streetwalking for Inland Prostitution”, Riverside Press-Enterprise, January 1 2008.
- “RivCo Supes to Discuss Ways to Thwart Prostitution at Board Meeting”, Southwest Riverside News Network, January 28 2013.
- “UPDATE: Supervisor Stone Proposes to Cut Prostitution and Pimping with Tighter Controls on Hotels/Motels”, Temecula Patch, January 29 2013.
- “‘Hospitality Ordinance’ in the Works to Combat Sex Trafficking and Prostitution in RivCo”, Southwest Riverside News Network, January 29 2013.
- “Moreno Valley: School Official Accused of Running Prostitution Ring in Court Today”, Southwest Riverside News Network, January 30 2013.
- “Sex-for-Sale Posts Add to Prostitution Problem in Southern California”, NBC/KNBC-TV 4, March 29 2013.
- https://www.northlawgroup.com/blog/2019/april/what-is-agreeing-to-prostitution-temecula-murrie/ (2019)
- https://patch.com/california/murrieta/temecula-prostitution-sting-nabs-ex-chief-deputy-sheriff-again (2020)
- https://patch.com/california/murrieta/murrieta-residents-arrested-prostitution-sting (2020)