Student tips lead to sex trafficking arrest

It all started with a presentation on human trafficking at Shadow Hills High School in Indio. It was followed by a tip from not one, but two female students who said the same woman on Facebook, identified as Marlissa Garcia, had attempted to recruit them for prostitution.

Recently-released court records showed that those actions then sparked an investigation into what eventually revealed more than 69 potential victims over the course of nearly one year. Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin is going after the perpetrator in court. The trial began earlier this week.

According to court documents, the Facebook account in question, led investigators back to an IP address on a computer located inside the home of 46-year-old Eliberto Cruz Jacobo, of Hemet. Prosecutors allege that Jacobo, under the guise of Garcia, had been attempting, and was at times successful, to connect young victims with a man he called “Robert,” who was willing to pay for sexual encounters. It is insinuated on the affidavit that Jacobo and Robert are the same person.

Jacobo is now on trial in Riverside County Superior Court. He faces 62 felony counts, including human trafficking of a minor, inducing or persuading a minor to engage in a commercial sex act, statutory rape and possession of child pornography.

It is a victory that an anti-human trafficking advocate said comes far too few.

“It’s hard to get them and prosecute them in the way that we need to because there’s so much investigation that’s involved and it’s happening so often,” Kristen Dolan, anti-human trafficking director of SafeHouse of the Desert told KESQ News Channel 3’s and CBS Local 2’s Katie Widner.

Dolan said situations, such as the one at Shadow Hills, are happening more and more often. In fact, Dolan said, the Coachella Valley organization received 100 new case referrals in 2016.

“The situation is that it is happening online and that’s why a lot of people don’t see it, which is why a lot of people don’t think it’s happening in their area,” Dolan added. “It doesn’t necessarily look like Vegas where you see the girls walking along a track.”

Dolan recommended parents keep a close eye on all of their children’s social media accounts, not just cell phone text messages.