Three men have been arrested and charged with sex trafficking in Ventura County after a Riverside teenager was found and rescued more than 250 miles away in Central California, authorities said Wednesday.
Weeks of investigation led to the 16-year-old’s rescue and the arrests of Cirsten Joseph, 26; Jovantay Bess, 23; and Allan Sherman, 29, according to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. They were taken into custody on June 12.
Joseph and Bess were each charged by the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office two days later with a felony count of causing, inducing or persuading a minor into a commercial sex act or attempting to do so, according to sheriff’s officials.
Sherman, who is not suspected in the Riverside teen’s case, was charged with depriving or violating the personal liberty of another person in connection with human trafficking on June 18. That charge relates to another case.
Human trafficking investigators in Riverside County first notified officials in Ventura County on May 22 of a Riverside girl who was possibly being victimized by sex traffickers there, according to sheriff’s officials.
“Investigators quickly narrowed down the juvenile’s location to the Newbury Park area,” officials said in a news release.
But the teen left Ventura County before authorities could track her down and travelled to the Bakersfield area before going to Madera County and then to Fresno, officials said.
She was found by the Madera County Sheriff’s Office on May 24 following search efforts involving law enforcement agencies around Southern and Central California. She was taken into protective custody and provided with services for sex trafficking victims.
Meanwhile, Ventura County detectives continued interviewing witnesses and serving search warrants in the investigation into who was responsible for victimizing the teen.
Investigators eventually learned the girl was in Ventura County on two separate occasions during the month of May — a first time when she was sex trafficked by Bess and a second time when she was victimized by Joseph, officials said.
That discovery led detectives to serve a search warrant June 12 at Joseph’s Newbury Park home, where evidence was collected in connection with the investigation, according to sheriff’s officials. He was arrested for his alleged role in the crime.
Bess was found and arrested later that day in Newbury Park when authorities spotted him with Sherman and two women allegedly involved in prostitution in the city of Ventura, according to sheriff’s officials.
Sherman allegedly initially gave authorities a fake name before his true identity was determined.
He was arrested on suspicion of providing false information to a peace officer before investigators determined he was also involved in pimping and trafficking one of the two women, officials said. He is now being held on those alleged offenses as well.
Authorities are still investigating the evidence in the case of the two woman accused of prostitution.
Sheriff’s officials have described Sherman as a Bakersfield gang member and Bess as a gang member from Fresno.
Bess and Joseph are each being held on $120,000 bail, according to sheriff’s officials, while Sherman is being held on $100,000 bail.