FRESNO, Calif. – Eighteen persons, including 14 residents of the Fresno area, are facing federal or state criminal charges and three local children have been rescued as a result of Operation Sunflower, a recently concluded international enforcement action spearheaded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) aimed at rescuing victims and targeting individuals who own, trade, and produce child pornography.
Mark Cullers, Chief of the Fresno Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Mike Prado, Resident Agent in Charge for HSI in Fresno, announced the local results of Operation Sunflower at a news conference Thursday, underscoring the crucial role federal and state collaboration played in the overall effort. During the course of the operation, which ran from November 1 through December 7, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and HSI worked closely with several local law enforcement agencies, including the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department, the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, and the Clovis and Tulare police departments.
Eight defendants were arrested on federal charges in the Eastern District of California as part of Operation Sunflower. All have been indicted on federal felony charges by federal grand juries in Fresno and Sacramento. An additional defendant, currently in state custody, has been charged in a federal criminal complaint. Two more defendants are charged in federal indictments that remain under seal. Seven other defendants are facing state charges. . Approximately 30 federal search warrants were executed in the district as part of Operation Sunflower, and many investigations are ongoing that began due to the operation. In total, Operation Sunflower led to 245 arrests in the United States and overseas.
U.S. Attorney Wagner said: “Protecting the most vulnerable in society is one of the most important things our office does. Few are more vulnerable than children, and prosecuting those who seek to sexually exploit them is one of our highest priorities. I commend the investigators from Homeland Security Investigations who have led Operation Sunflower. They are making our communities safer for our children.”
Among the child sexual exploitation victims identified locally during Operation Sunflower was a seven-year-old disabled girl. The child was rescued November 6, 2012, following the arrest of Bradley Vaine, 26, of Fresno. Vaine, a convicted sex offender, was charged November 15 in a two-count federal indictment with receipt and distribution of child pornography. He is in federal custody at this time. Additional potential charges are being investigated by the Fresno Police Department. The Fresno County Sheriff’s Department and the Tulare Police Department assisted HSI with the case.
“No crime affects us as law enforcement and as parents more deeply than the sexual abuse of an innocent child by the people he or she trusts most,” said HSI Resident Agent in Charge Prado. “Many times, our child pornography investigations reveal new material that points to the ongoing sexual abuse of a child. In these cases, our primary goal is to rescue the victim from their horrific situation. The next step is to arrest and seek prosecution for the abuser.”
HSI victim assistance specialists, located in offices around the country, provide direct assistance to victims and families and work with both children and adult victims to provide referrals for services and resources in their area. These specialists are involved during the investigation and often remain involved beyond the sentencing of the perpetrator.
Locating previously unidentified child sexual exploitation victims, such as the Fresno girl, was one of the top priorities of Operation Sunflower, which commemorated the one-year anniversary of a Kansas preteen’s rescue based upon a sunflower-shaped highway sign.
The operation’s other objective, however, was targeting alleged egregious violators of child pornography laws. Locally, authorities cited the case of Samuel Gueydan, a 48-year-old Clovis man taken into custody by HSI special agents on November 1. A search of Gueydan’s residence turned up over a million still images and thousands of videos of minors in sexually explicit situations. Gueydan was charged on November 15 in a federal indictment with receiving and distributing child pornography. He has been ordered to remain under home confinement with supervision pending trial. The case was investigated by HSI, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department, the Clovis Police Department, and the California Department of Justice.
In another case charged as part of Operation Sunflower, Albert Lee Mitchell, 65, of Sacramento, was arrested on November 6, following the execution of a federal search warrant. More than 40,000 images of child pornography were found on his computer. At a bail hearing in U.S. District Court, it was reported that Mitchell had been planning to depart the next day for Argentina, where he owns property. Children’s clothing and toys were found in his luggage. Mitchell was charged in a federal indictment returned on November 15, and was ordered detained pending trial.
Of the 245 arrests in Operation Sunflower, 14 occurred in the Fresno area, which represents the largest number conducted by any HSI office nationwide. A total of 18 defendants were arrested in the Eastern District of California, and a total of 26 defendants were arrested by HSI agents with the northern California office – more than any other HSI jurisdiction in the nation.
In addition to Gueydan, Vaine, and Mitchell, the other defendants charged federally as part of Operation Sunflower are:
Luis Espinoza, 22, of Riverdale, indicted November 1;
Robert McGrath, 76, of Fresno, indicted November 1;
Shane Paul Young, 42, of Fresno, a previously convicted sex offender currently incarcerated on state charges who was charged in a federal complaint filed November 9.
Martin Lyle, 32, of Fresno, indicted November 15;
Robert K. Roberson, of Citrus Heights, indicted November 15; and
Roy Palomera, 23, of Fresno, indicted December 6.
Two more defendants are also facing federal charges, but those indictment remains under seal at this time.
In addition to the federal cases, seven other individuals identified and arrested as part of Operation Sunflower locally are being prosecuted on state charges. They are:
Daniel Hoskins, 58, of Fresno;
Marc Price, 49, of Fresno;
Michael Wright, 28, of Selma;
Fernando Cardenas, 22, of Fresno;
Santos Reding, 48, of Goshen;
Israel Mancias, 44, of Fresno; and
Kenneth Cavin, 57, of Clovis.
The federal Operation Sunflower cases are being prosecuted in the Fresno Division by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian Enos and David L. Gappa and in the Sacramento Division by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kyle Reardon and Matthew Morris.
The charges against each defendant are only allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.