Crime

Only 6 weeks out of prison, Tri-Cities man again is accused of sex trafficking a teen girl

The difference between prostitution and sex trafficking

According to experts, it's important to understand the differences between prostitution, which is voluntary, and sex trafficking, which can trap victims with involuntary sex work.
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According to experts, it's important to understand the differences between prostitution, which is voluntary, and sex trafficking, which can trap victims with involuntary sex work.

A Tri-Cities man released from prison six weeks ago is back behind bars on allegations he gave money and drugs to a second teen girl in exchange for sex.

Jesus Rodriguez, 27, just finished serving a one-year, nine-month term for similar charges involving a different girl.

The new charges are for a crime in late 2016 and early 2017, though a federal grand just indicted him on the allegations last week.

That is the same time frame for the Benton County Superior Court case that sent him to prison.

Documents from the older case show that, Rodriguez “reached out to several other younger-aged females randomly within the Moses Lake and Tri-Cities areas.”

The girls all were strangers to him and may have been befriended through Facebook.

Rodriguez was investigated at the time by the Kennewick and Moses Lake police departments and the FBI, documents show.

Sex trafficking and child pornography

Rodriguez was arrested Thursday while at work, and immediately was taken to U.S. District Court in Richland.

Magistrate Judge Mary K. Dimke entered a “not guilty” plea on his behalf to three felony counts: online enticement of a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity, child sex trafficking and receipt of child pornography.

Rodriguez, Jesus 405328.jpg
Jesus Rodriguez Washington Department of Corrections

Rodriguez, whose nickname is “Chewy,” was ordered held by the U.S. Marshals Service until he has a detention hearing next week. He was booked into the Benton County jail just before 3 p.m. as a contract inmate.

The indictment does not give any details about the new case, other than to say he allegedly enticed and trafficked the girl in December 2017, and the following month received pictures of minor children engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

If convicted in federal court, he faces at least 10 years and up to life in prison for the online enticement and child sex trafficking charges. The child pornography charge carries a sentence of 5 to 20 years.

In the prior state case, the teen girl disclosed that she had been picked at random on Facebook by Rodriguez, and the two primarily chatted through the social media site and its Messenger app.

He was 25 at the time.

Sex for money and THC

Their conversations revolved around sex for money and for THC, a cannabis extract, and Rodriguez’s requests for nude photos of the girl, according to court documents.

Several meetings were arranged, and Rodriguez would pick her up in his truck so the two could have sex, documents said. He paid her $120 on one occasion.

Kennewick police Detective Rick Runge was assigned the case and, with the girl’s permission, started posing as the teen on her Facebook and Facebook Messenger accounts to communicate with Rodriguez.

They scheduled another date in early February 2017. But that time, Rodriguez was met by officers and a police dog in the parking lot of a Kennewick store.

He had a 9mm gun in a holster on his truck’s dashboard when arrested, court documents said. There was no round in the chamber, but the magazine did have 13 rounds, documents said.

federal court
Jesus Rodriguez, 27, appeared in Richland’s federal court on Thursday on allegations he gave money and drugs to a second teen girl in exchange for sex. He was released from state prison six weeks ago on a similar charge for another girl. File Tri-City Herald

Rodriguez was charged in February 2017 with commercial sex abuse of a minor and sexual exploitation of a minor. The exploitation charge was dismissed a year later as part of a plea agreement.

‘I hope you can ... move on’

When interviewed for a presentencing report, Rodriguez denied knowing the girl was underage until after he was charged and received information in court. He got married a couple months after his arrest while out on bail.

Asked by the community corrections officer if he had anything to say to the teen victim, Rodriguez answered: “I am sorry I did what I did and I hope you can find a way to redirect your life and move on.”

Ross Esparza, the community corrections officer, noted that Rodriguez had to be asked several times before giving that answer, at which point he did not appear to have sincere remorse.

However, Rodriguez said he wanted to apologize to the community because what he did was wrong and he knows he made a mistake, the report said.

‘Deviant sexual appetite’

“He also wanted it noted that he was taking full responsibility for his actions and behaviors and that he appeared in court and did not run from the charges he was facing, as he states facing them and dealing with them will help him learn and grow as a person and to finally move on with his life,” Esparza wrote. “He showed no ill will towards the legal system.”

The report also said that Rodriguez claimed to be working on making himself a better person as “he was lost in many aspects of his life and reached out of his inhibitions while engaging in this behavior.”

But Esparza added that Rodriguez’s behavior of befriending many young girls on Facebook was “predatory in nature in demonstrating his desires to satisfy his deviant sexual appetite.”

Rodriguez was sentenced in March 2018.

A state Department of Corrections official on Thursday told the Herald that Rodriguez was released from prison March 11, and currently is being supervised out of the Kennewick area. His sentence includes three years on community custody.

Kristin M. Kraemer covers the judicial system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years in Washington and California.
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