A California Highway Patrol officer, an Oregon man who drove nearly 700 miles to Kern County and a state prison employee were among the 15 arrested over the past three months following an undercover operation by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office targeting online child predators.
Dating back as early as April, detectives posed as boys and girls as young as 13 years old on various online platforms, according to documents filed in Kern County Superior Court. Detectives engaged in conversations with suspects in which they ultimately agreed to meet in person to engage in sex acts, the court documents said.
Thirteen of the 15 arrested arrived to the arranged meet-up locations and all were detained without incident, said KCSO Sgt. David Hubbard, a detective in the operation. Those arrested were between 21 and 54 years old.
One individual, Albert Blankenship, 49, of Roseburg, Ore., allegedly offered to pay $200 to make a more than 10-hour drive to an Oildale park to engage in sex acts with who he believed was a 15-year-old girl, according to the probable cause statement. Blankenship was arrested on June 23 at the proposed location in possession of $200.
“I think (child predators are) obviously prevalent in a lot of communities and the message really is that (parents) need to pay attention to what their kids are doing online,” Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said during a Monday interview.
CHP Officer Brian Pardue, 51, allegedly used a fake social media profile posing as a woman he claimed was his wife to attempt to arrange sex acts between himself and someone he thought was a 16-year-old, deputies said. While Pardue didn't follow through with the arranged meeting, he admitted to controlling the social media accounts when he was arrested July 3, according to court documents.
On July 24, CHP issued a news release regarding Pardue’s arrest and said he'd been stripped of his peace officer duties.
“I also want to emphasize to the public that the alleged conduct of this employee does not reflect the values, hard work, dedication and professionalism of the CHP and its more than 11,000 employees, who proudly work each day to provide the best in safety, service, and security to the people of California,” said CHP Capt. Scot Loetscher, Bakersfield Area commander, in a news release.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation employee Ricardo Mancillas, 54, allegedly told a decoy who was posing as a minor that he wanted to meet at a local park for sex acts, according to court documents. On June 3, Mancillas arrived at the pre-arranged time and location and was arrested.
Youngblood said he found it “troubling” that, in some cases, those willing to engage in the alleged behavior were law enforcement officers.
“No one is exempt. No agency in this country is exempt. You don’t know who's who 100 percent of the time,” Youngblood said. “In all of the work we do through background checks to get good people in our organizations, you just never really know 100 percent.”
During a Monday news conference, Youngblood said having law enforcement officers implicated in the operation makes all law enforcement “look bad.”
Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer also issued a statement regarding the operation.
“As the pandemic compels our children to conduct more interactions over the internet, child predators acting under a false sense of anonymity will look for victims online," Zimmer said. "This operation puts child predators on notice that police and prosecutors will continue fighting to secure the safety of children in our community."
Additionally, two previously registered sex offenders were arrested in the operation. Edward Gonzales, 44, was arrested and convicted in 2004 on multiple child sex crimes and Donald Self, 44, pleaded no contest in 1999 to a charge involving a sexual offense involving a person under the age of 18, according to the Kern County Superior Court.
The remaining 10 arrestees included the following Kern County residents: Devon Armstrong, 25; Noah Gause, 21; Jeffrey Perez, 30; Mathew Porcho, 35; Anthony Morales, 27; Gene Brimage, 45; Edgar Mati Jr., 30; Miguel Martinez, 29; Michael Peterson, 26; and Everardo Viramontes, 42. The arrests were made between May 20 and July 17, according to KCSO.
The operation came at a time when many children are likely more vulnerable and isolated without being in school and stuck at home, Youngblood said. He added the operation won't be the last, as KCSO continues striving to “protect the children in our community.”
“There would have been a lot more victims out there if we didn’t do these types of operations,” Youngblood said. “When you get on the internet and you act like a juvenile, (child predators) will come. These people cannot help themselves; they cannot control themselves.”