San Juan, Puerto Rico – A former Catholic priest was sentenced Thursday to 11 years in prison for transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual conduct. The sentence follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with the assistance of the Puerto Rico Department of Justice and the Puerto Rico Crimes Against Children Task Force (PRCACTF).
HSI special agents arrested Israel Berrios-Berrios May 13, 2014, at his residence in Naranjito following an indictment that charged him with transporting a minor with the intent to engage in sexual activity. According to the government’s version of facts, Berrios-Berrios transported a 15-year-old male minor to Miami, Florida, where together they took a four-day cruise to the Bahamas. While on the cruise, Berrios-Berrios engaged in lewd acts with the minor. He pleaded guilty to the transportation charge Aug. 21, 2014.
“The arrest, guilty plea and sentence of this man are especially disturbing given the position of trust he occupied,” said Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI San Juan.
“Identifying people who violate their positions of public trust by contributing to the exploitation of children is a top priority for HSI. Anyone who targets children for sexual exploitation should also consider themselves a target by HSI and by our law enforcement partners regardless of who they are. We have an obligation to protect those most vulnerable in our society who cannot protect themselves.”
In response to the need for an island-wide approach in the fight against the escalation of predatory crimes against children, HSI San Juan partnered with members of local, state and federal law enforcement, as well as local and state government officials and community leaders, to form the PRCACTF in June 2011. Since the creation of the task force, child exploitation cases within the HSI San Juan jurisdiction have increased by 230 percent compared to the period prior inception of the initiative.
Through PRCACTF, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies work together with local and state government agencies to effectively pool their resources to jointly investigate all crimes against children in Puerto Rico. Through the task force, law enforcement officers are encouraged to share evidence, ideas, and investigative and forensic tools to ensure the most successful prosecutions possible. As such, PRCACTF allows law enforcement to speak with one unified voice in defense of the children of Puerto Rico.
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 10,000 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.