A total of 19 men have been arrested and booked into the Fresno County Jail on various charges related to arranging to meet with a child for sex.
They range in age from 31 to 49. The arrests are a result of the undercover effort called “Operation H.O.O.K.” (Hands Off Our Kids), which was a multi-agency operation conducted from November 2nd – 5th, 2022. The majority of arrestees have since posted bond, been assigned a court date and released from custody.
Participants included members from the following 17 different local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
-Central California Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force
-Fresno County Sheriff’s Office
-Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)
-Fresno Police Department
-Multi-Agency Gang Enforcement Consortium (MAGEC)
-Fresno County Probation Adult Compliance Team (ACT)
-Fresno County District Attorney’s Office
-U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California
-California Department of Justice
-U.S. Secret Service
-Paso Robles Police Department
-Atascadero Police Department
-Hanford Police Department
-Kerman Police Department
-Madera County Sheriff’s Office
-Merced County District Attorney’s Office
-Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Also helping to make this operation a success through supportive roles were the following local groups: Breaking the Chains, RH Homes, Granville Homes and Caglia Environmental.
The basis for launching this operation is that children’s use of electronic devices and social media is higher than ever. A potential danger of being online more often is having an encounter with a sexual predator who is seeking out relationships with children.
To combat the problem, detectives constructed an operation to identify, contact and arrest anyone who may be trying to target a child for sex. Detectives posed as preteen and early teenage old boys and girls to use technology against these predators and safeguard children. During the investigations, these suspects used sexually explicit language and sent graphic photos to the detective pretending to be a child. All of the suspects were first to express their sexual desires and they initiated a time to meet with the detective posing as a child. Once they arrived to the locations, officers arrested them. No actual children were ever used or placed into danger during the operation.
One of the most notable arrests was that of 38 year old Mark McGill Jr. of Perris, CA (Riverside County). McGill is a U.S. Forest Service employee who was staying in the Fresno area. He arrived at the meeting site in a department fire engine with the intent of having sex with a teenage girl.
In 2020, a similar operation was conducted, titled “COVID Chat Down.” It lasted 14 days and resulted in 34 arrests. Operation H.O.O.K. resulted in 19 arrests over four days, meaning arrests were made at twice the daily rate of operation COVID Chat Down.
Last week, the Fresno Police Department also conducted a concurrent operation. The primary objective was to set-up online dates with suspected human trafficking victims, concentrating on juvenile trafficking victims, to identify and / or arrest their traffickers. A total of nine women were rescued during the operation. All of those found to be human trafficking victims were offered assistance from a victim services organization.
So far in 2022, the ICAC Task Force has received more than 5,500 online CyberTip reports from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. These tips are related to the distribution and possession of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM). ICAC detectives are well-aware that suspects who view CSAM can easily progress into hands on crimes against children. The suspects contacted in “Operation H.O.O.K.” are prime examples of how sexual behavior can escalate.
ICAC is comprised of 64 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies spread throughout nine counties in the Central Valley. It is dedicated to protecting children online and investigating crimes committed against children, which are facilitated by the Internet and computer usage.
Law enforcement would like to remind the public to be vigilant when it comes to visiting websites and social media outlets. Parents should also monitor their children’s internet usage and be aware of the software apps they are using. Parents should keep the dialogue open with their children in order to build trust. Online predators often pretend to be someone else in order to lure their victims in and take advantage of them. Teach children to be wary of the person on the other end of the chat line; many times, people are not who they say they are. Common apps used by suspects include, but are not limited to: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, Discord, Kik, MeetMe and Scout. Report any suspicious behavior right away to law enforcement or file a cyber tip through the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. https://report.cybertip.org/
Operation H.O.O.K. remains an ongoing investigation and more arrests could be made. There is a possibility that the suspects in this case victimized other people who have never reported it. If you have any additional information about the suspects contacted during this operation, please report it to Sgt. Ericka Rascon at (559) 600-8144, Valley Crime Stoppers at (559) 498-7867, www.valleycrimestoppers.org You will remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.