A nine-day Merced Police Department investigation ended this week with seven women arrested on prostitution allegations, officers said.
Police said they also found multiple underage girls engaging in sex-related crimes. The case was investigated by the department’s Disruptive Area Response Team.
All of the women have been offered counseling and other services, police said in a news release.
“We see these girls as victims, and if we can help break them out of the cycle through services and even arrests, then that’s what we want to do,” Capt. Tom Trindad said. “This is a very serious issue in our community, and our main targets are the people profiting financially from these victims.”
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During the investigation, authorities said, officers found a 15-year-old girl and a 17-year-old girl who were “engaged” in prostitution, as well as a 14-year-old girl they said was “in the process of being indoctrinated into the prostitution lifestyle.”
“Each of the juveniles contacted in these cases were removed from the environment and offered similar (counseling) services before being returned to their guardians,” Sgt. Donald King said in the statement.
The arrests were the latest chapter in a recent police crackdown on the sex trade in Merced.
Stephen L. Montgomery, 23, and Amanda C. Baker, 20, were arrested Feb. 10 and charged with trafficking a 16-year-old girl and possession of child pornography. They have pleaded not guilty. Both defendants remain in custody at the John Latorraca Correctional Facility on $250,000 bail each, according to Merced Superior Court records.
In another recent Merced police case, Samuel L. Packard, 32, pleaded guilty to a single felony count of human trafficking of a minor for a sexual act. His co-defendant, Ashley M. Gonzalez, 21, pleaded guilty to a single count of pandering a minor over the age of 16, according to the Merced County District Attorney’s Office.
Police said the pair drove a 17-year-old girl from Fresno to a West 16th Street motel in Merced, where they encouraged her into prostitution.
They are scheduled for sentencing in April, prosecutors said Friday.
Trindad said police are asking the public to contact them whenever they see anything they suspect may involve prostitution. The He advised any women or men who would like to escape from that situation to contact DART at the number listed below.
Merced police ask anyone with any information regarding these crimes to contact Sgt. King at (209)384-4188, or the tipster line at (209) 385-4725. Information also can be sent via anonymous text message by dialing TIP411 (847411) and including the word “Comvip” as the keyword in the text message.
Arrested in the Merced police prostitution case
Chyla Hawkins, 19, Celeste Simpson, 38, Camryn Rosenberg, 20, Angelica Garcia, 22, Noel Luna, 29, Lisa Thao, 19, and Virginia Lerma, 43.