VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) --Tulare County Sheriff's deputies said they've taken down a human trafficking ring and in doing so put the law enforcement career of one of their own on hold.
The Tulare County Sheriff said the main person behind this sex trafficking ring lured young girls online through social media. He created a fake account pretending to be a young attractive woman with an exciting life. Sheriff investigators, along with officers from the Farmersville Police Department, seize evidence from a home in Northwest Visalia as part of a three-month long investigation into sex trafficking.
"It's pretty bad you wouldn't think someone on your block would do that, but in this day and age things are getting weirder and weirder," said Gordon Rey, neighbor.
"As this case could've continued for many months, we could no longer wait to take down this operation. This is definitely a human trafficking case ," said Mike Boudreaux, Tulare County Sheriff.
Sheriff Boudreaux said three men who operated the ring have been arrested along with numerous others who paid them to have sex with teens. Some as young as 14. Investigators said so far there are 21 underage girls, two underage boys, and 29 women who were victims.
"If a teenage girl was at risk or if she had a moment of angst-- my parents don't understand me-- he would simply start this with I'll be your friend," said Lt Jim Franks, Tulare County Sheriff's Office.
Antonio Alvarez, 34, who investigators said masked his identity by pretending to be a young woman, preyed on the girls. Ultimately convincing them to send him naked pictures of themselves.
"And when they would try to step away they would say, 'remember all those naked pictures I have, I'll send them to your friends, family, school, and everything else,'" said Franks.
As investigators sifted through mounds of evidence on cell phones and computers. An IP address lead back to one of the department's own corrections deputies. He's now on paid administrative leave for possibly being involved in the case.
"I do promise you at any point if criminal charges have been brought forth as part of this investigation, you will be the first to know if that is deemed necessary," said Boudreaux.
Investigators are still looking for Jose Manzo. They believe Manzo is with a 16-year-old girl and they're concerned about her safety.
The sheriff said this investigation is not over and they anticipate even more arrests as they work to find out all the people involved in this sex trafficking ring.