SAN DIEGO – An Ohio seminary student suspected of travelling to San Diego to have sex with multiple infants in Mexico was taken into federal custody Friday at Lindberg Field by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Joel A. Wright, 23, of Columbus, Ohio, is charged in a criminal complaint with two felony counts, including travelling with the intent to engage in a sexual act with a minor; and attempting to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country within the Southern District of California. Wright is expected to be arraigned in federal court Monday. Wright’s arrest follows a months-long undercover child sexual exploitation investigation conducted by HSI special agents in San Diego. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.
“This investigation opens a window into a secret world where sexual predators prey on young children around the globe,” said Dave Shaw, special agent in charge for HSI San Diego. “Pedophiles who mistakenly believe they can escape justice by committing child sex crimes outside the U.S. should be on notice that HSI will seek to vindicate the rights of those victims regardless where they live. Fortunately, in this instance, our perseverance and diligence prevented the sexual exploitation of yet another innocent victim.”
According to the criminal complaint, after receiving a tip, an undercover HSI special agent took over an email account and began chatting with Wright. Wright believed he was still communicating with a Mexico-based male tour guide he met after placing an online ad. During the email chats with the undercover investigator, Wright allegedly stated he wanted to travel to Tijuana to adopt or own a child under 3 years old and have intercourse with the child.
Subsequently, Wright booked his flight to San Diego and made arrangements to meet the friend of a tour guide at San Diego’s Lindberg Field. Investigators allege the plan was for Wright and the tour guide to then travel to a hotel in Tijuana where he would meet the female infants. Wright was taken into custody by HSI special agents after his plane landed at Lindberg Field Friday morning.
This investigation was conducted under HSI’s Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 12,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2014, more than 2,300 individuals were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative and more than 1,000 victims identified or rescued.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Hearing impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.
For additional information about wanted suspected child predators, download HSI’s Operation Predator smartphone app or visit the online suspect alerts page. HSI is a founding member and current chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.