Four men have been arrested in an undercover sex solicitation operation on suspicion of agreeing to pay to have sex with girls as young as 14, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said Friday.
Law enforcement officials said the men responded to ads that detectives had posted on Backpage.com or Craigslist.com. When contacted by the prospective sex buyers, detectives represented themselves as underage girls between the ages of 14 and 16, a statement by the Sheriff's Department said.
Sheriff's Lt. Barry Hall said in an interview that the men agreed to exchange money for sex on a phone call or by text message. "They acknowledged that the female was underage, either 14 or 16, and they acknowledged, 'I'll pay you $120 for whatever-fill-in-the-blank sex act,' " Hall said.
The four men were arrested Thursday after they arrived at a Santa Clarita Valley hotel or across the street from the building.
Peter Ghanem, 35, of Canyon Country; Salvador Buenrostro, 47, of Pacoima; Thomas Wilkerson, 44, of Winnetka; and Mohammed Rahman, 26, of Van Nuys were all arrested on suspicion of going to an arranged location to meet with a person believed to be a minor for the purpose of engaging in lewd or lascivious behavior.
Those convicted of that charge can be sent to state prison for as long as four years.
Rahman was also booked on suspicion of possessing a controlled substance. Hall said Rahman brought Ecstasy, an illegal stimulant and hallucinogen, after saying he had planned to bring the drug to share.
Each of the men was booked at the sheriff's station in Santa Clarita on bail of $75,000. They are scheduled to be arraigned at the San Fernando Courthouse on Monday.
The operation was led by the sheriff's Human Trafficking Bureau, which is part of the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force.