For three long months, he worked the suspect.
Posing as a 17-year-old female on a social media website, the middle-aged, undercover male cop and member of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force used street slang and the latest hipster teen lingo in text messages to engage him in conversation.
The suspect, police said, was attempting to traffic the minor for sex — a form of human trafficking that increasingly is making headlines in Orange County ever since a multi-agency task force made it a priority a couple of years ago to tackle this form of modern slavery.
“And to call this modern slavery,” Anaheim PD Sgt. Juan Reveles said, “is absolutely not an understatement.”
Pimps involved in commercial sexual exploitation use threats, intimidation and outright violence to coerce their young charges into performing multiple sex acts per night — often for no pay (just shelter and food). If it is a customer, the girl will always get paid. With the trafficker, it is sex on demand whether the female wants to or not.
As recently as a decade ago, law enforcement in Orange County viewed young prostitutes as criminals.
With the formation of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, it now takes a proactive approach to protecting women and minors from the cruel clutches of pimps who force them into lives of degradation, often by exploiting their status as runaways or their troubled pasts as victims of sexual abuse.
Although formed in 2004, it wasn’t until August 2014 that OCHTTF became a fully operational, multijurisdictional task force led by Reveles, a veteran APD officer.
On an afternoon in late February, Reveles and more than a half-dozen undercover cops from various agencies set up surveillance outside a motel in Orange County in the hopes that the bad guy would show up to meet his fictitious underage prostitute.
Reveles rated the chances of the pimp showing up a “high probability,” based on the latest text-message exchanges between him and the undercover cop.
Dressed in dark-colored casual clothes, many sporting long hair, the undercover cops sat in unmarked cars and waited outside the inn.
They communicated via a closed radio channel.
The suspect eventually contacted the fictitious minor, but gave the officer some song and dance about coming by later.
Nabbing such suspected sex traffickers takes time, patience and resources.
This particular suspect had been on the task force’s radar since December 2015, when he chatted up the fictitious minor, eventually persuading “her” to work for him by performing commercial sex acts for money despite knowing her age, according to police and law enforcement officials.
So the cops on the task force watched and waited — then pounced to action on Feb. 25, when they believed the suspect was likely to show up at a motel to meet the made-up victim.
Eventually, Reveles got tired of the suspect’s cagey ways and called it a night — convinced, however, that he would show up on another day and an arrest would happen.
“These guys aren’t working professionals like you and I who, when they make appointments, show up on time,” Reveles said. “You never know what will happen. This guy appears to be being very careful.”
On March 2, the suspect showed up at a different meeting site.
And then, without incident, Reveles and his team swooped in and arrested Joseph Deandre Edwards, 21, of Anaheim.
Two days later, Edwards was arraigned on charges of attempting to traffic and pimp an undercover officer posing as a minor on social media.
If convicted, Edwards — who is 6 feet 3 inches and weighs 230 pounds, and claims on jail documents to be a forklift operator — faces a maximum sentence of six years in prison and mandatory lifetime sex offender registration.
As of Tuesday, March 15, Edwards remained in custody at the Orange County Jail in Santa Ana. His next scheduled court appearance is April 22 at the North Justice Center in Fullerton.
Reveles said he and his team of undercover cops on the task force are “batting 1000” when it comes to snaring suspects who prey on juveniles by using social media sites.
He said social media has added a whole new pernicious angle to the age-old professions of pimping and prostitution.
But minor victims of sex trafficking are not in a profession, Reveles stressed — rather, he said, they are exploited victims of bottom-feeding criminals.
And, he added: “It’s doesn’t matter where they’re at. We’ll get them.”
Reveles said members of the task force have arrested suspects attempting to traffic undercover officers from throughout California, including some from outside states.
Echoing the ultra-confident Liam Neeson character in the “Taken” hostage flicks, Reveles, addressing the bad guys, added:
“If you recruit juvenile girls in Orange County, we will catch you.”
In addition to the APD, members of the OCHTTF include the California Highway Patrol, Irvine PD, Orange County District Attorney’s Office, Orange County Sheriff’s Dept., Santa Ana PD and community and non-profit partners such as Community Service Programs Inc.).