PHARR — A 14-year-old girl told authorities she posted photos of herself on Facebook and other sites online to solicit clients who had sex with her for money, police said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Pharr police have arrested three men who said they exchanged text messages with the girl, a 14-year-old illegal immigrant, who posted explicit photos of herself on social networking sites and shared them via cellphone to attract new clients, authorities said Tuesday.
Pharr police Chief Ruben Villescas confirmed the girl had been using the Internet to find sexual clients, though investigators do not believe the girl had been coerced into selling herself online.
Rather, the teen appears to have been soliciting sexual clients without a pimp.
Only when the teen believed she may have contracted a sexually transmitted disease did she come forward to her mother, who called police.
“She was the one putting herself out there, wearing lingerie and asking for attention,” said a law enforcement official unauthorized to comment on the case. “She would lure them in.”
Investigators believe the girl had used social networks like Facebook to promote herself to potential johns, Villescas said.
“What we have been looking at has been causing us to look at this case further and see if there are any other young women who are victims,” the chief said.
Federal and local authorities continue to investigate how many other men may have solicited the girl for sexual relations — or if any other girls may have performed similar acts, Villescas said.
“Even in this case, it was done over Facebook and texts and solicitation being done over the Internet or some form of technology,” he said. “It’s not just tied down to one city’s jurisdiction ... and that’s what makes this crime one of which we have to see what large scale it is, if not just with this 14-year-old, but other young girls and men who might be victim to this.”
The girl was in custody receiving medical treatment Tuesday, the official said.
An ICE spokesperson declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.
Pharr police told ICE of the case about April 12, when an agent took the girl’s cellphone with her mother’s consent, and began “conversing with the unknown males via text messages,” a criminal complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. Magistrate Court in McAllen states.
The girl’s phone began to receive text messages from unknown men.
One came on April 24, when the undercover agent told the man she is 14 years old, but he still wanted to discuss a price to have sex with her, the complaint states.
Agents arrested that man, Teofanes Salas Campos, 40, about 11:45 p.m. Friday at a Valero gas station in Pharr, where he had expected to meet the girl.
Salas, of Mission, told agents he exchanged text messages with the girl to have sex with her for $100, the complaint states. He said he rented a room at the Sun Deck Motel, 501 S. Cage Blvd., Pharr, where he was going to take the girl.
Agents also arrested Jose Luis Garcia Saldivar, 28, a self-employed construction worker who solicited the girl April 24 and agreed to give her $100 to have sex with her, the complaint states.
ICE witnessed Garcia exit a motel room in Pharr where he’d been staying about 9:15 p.m. Friday, when he expected to meet the girl. Instead, Pharr police officers arrested Garcia, who later confessed he knew the girl was 14, but expected to have sex with her, the complaint states.
Both Salas and Garcia face charges of coercion and enticement in federal court. Because the perceived victim is a minor, they face between 10 years and life in prison. The men could also face charges of possession of child pornography, after they received explicit images of her when negotiating a sexual encounter.
Also arrested in the case was Esteban Lucio, 42, who arranged with the undercover agent to meet at Valero, 721 S. Cage Blvd., about 7 a.m. Thursday, a criminal complaint states.
Posing as the girl, Lucio agreed to have sex with her for $80, the complaint states. He later confessed, saying he’d made the arrangement to meet the girl and sleep with her.
In Texas, online solicitation of a minor is a second-degree felony, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. He remained at the Hidalgo County Jail late Tuesday evening in lieu of a $25,000 bond.
Villescas said the case reminded him that he is “a parent in this, as well.”
“First of all, I am a dad, I am a father, I am a human being and then I am a police officer,” the chief said. “You have to look at the fact that there are adults willing to prey on innocent young girls that because of their maturity or their level of ability to make good decisions that they take advantage of them. They take advantage of these young people, these young girls.”