“It’s William from tonight. Precious was weird and fun. I’m already thinking about coming down next Thursday. Please send me pics of 3 or four of the youngest ones so I can choose.”
FBI investigators say William Dixon Adelman, a 51-year-old Studio City man, sent the request to a Tijuana sex broker on July 3, 2015 — the same day border crossing records show he was returning to the U.S. from Mexico.
“Thin, pretty … Like a precious but smaller,” the request continued. “You have a safe apartment? Hotel people would freak out no?”
The broker responded that he had a “good” place in mind, but reservations were needed: “in this place you can take the girls realy (sic) young 9,10,11.”
The emails, being used to prosecute Adelman on charges of traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sex following his arrest this month, offer a glimpse into a niche of Tijuana’s sex tourism industry — men seeking to exploit young children.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Joseph Rothrock in San Diego said the agency has investigated three to four cases in the last six months of Americans traveling with intent to have sex with minors. At least two of the recent cases, including Adelman’s, stem from a Tijuana man accused of setting up sexual encounters between U.S. citizens and young children. A third case involves the Philippines.
He said the cases are the beginning results of a renewed effort to tackle child trafficking in Mexico with help from Mexican law enforcement.
“All law enforcement partners are trying to get a handle on this information and assess how big an issue this is,” said Rothrock, who supervises the FBI’s Violent Crimes Task Force. He declined to discuss details of the cases, including if any child victims have been identified or rescued.
Prostitution has long been tolerated in Tijuana’s La Zona Norte, where customers — many of them Americans — easily find commercial sex on the street or in established brothels. Young children are offered more covertly, authorities say.
“It’s as easy as going on the internet and the dark web to get what you want,” said Marisa Ugarte, a former Tijuana social worker and founder of Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, a National City, Calif.-based service organization for victims of sex trafficking.
Many of the children are brought up from other areas of Mexico, Ugarte said. Some are orphans, unaccompanied minor immigrants or sold by their parents. Some are kidnapped, she said.
Child sex trafficking has long been known to be a problem in Tijuana, but there is no official data suggesting just how prolific it is.
The Tijuana investigations began in December, when a U.S. citizen reported the broker to the FBI. The FBI found the unnamed broker, interviewed him and was granted access to his email and Facebook communications with several clients.
(The broker denied actually providing access to children, but admitted to communicating with several people about setting up such transactions, according to court records. The man did admit to providing clients access to adults for sex.)
The communications indicate Adelman and another man, Kenneth Bigler, 52, of Walnut, separately traveled to Tijuana several times over the past few years, either engaging in sex with young children or intending to do so, according to complaints filed in San Diego federal court. U.S.-Mexico border crossing records correspond with their messages, investigators said.
Both have pleaded not guilty. Adelman’s lawyer declined to discuss his case and Bigler’s did not respond to a request for comment.
In responding to Adelman’s request for a “smaller” girl, on July 8, 2015, the broker responded he had just returned from Sinaloa with two beautiful girls, “brand new,” according to the communications.
Later, the messages began to refer to girls as “cars” with “mileage,” according to investigators.
Sept. 15, 2015: “hey will when aree u gonna be here_i got new girl,” the broker said.
“Girl?” Adelman responded, according to the complaint. “I’m looking for a car. About 10-11 years, low miles.”
On Adelman’s Facebook account, investigators found numerous pictures of prepubescent girls in various states of undress, as well as communications with more than 10 girls reportedly between the ages of 11 and 17, the complaint states. Once he learned they were under 18, authorities said, he would ask to continue talking on the messaging app Whatsapp, which is encrypted and a popular way to avoid law enforcement scrutiny, the complaint states.
Adelman’s last trip to Mexico was in April. He was arrested Oct. 4, according to the criminal complaint.
Bigler’s alleged communications with the broker were especially demanding, according to messages that began in November 2013, separate court records show.
The messages state the broker took Bigler around to scope out children, although it is not clear if the kids were potential victims or used as examples of girls and boys he was interested in.
He asked the broker to “try to get an 8 or 9” and referred to “the one in blue that was in front of the ladies underwear place” and “the one by the video game machine,” according to the complaint.
Bigler also warned that if the broker couldn’t help him out, “I’ll find someone else that can,” the complaint says.
In October 2014, the complaint says, Bigler requested a smaller and younger girl than he’d had sex with the other night, hoping for a 10-year-old but “NO MORE” than 12.
Later, the broker sent pictures of prepubescent girls to choose from. One photo, of a girl in an orange tank top, had the caption “Soi una sexy Hermosa” — “Im a sexy beauty” — with a pink heart next to it. In another, three girls in school uniforms appear to be standing in a bathroom.
“On my way,” a message from Bigler said, according to court records. “I like the one picture that has the little pink heart on it. Need to see her whole body before I make a decision though.”
In other emails in March 2015, Bigler allegedly bragged about buying sex from 10- and 12-year-olds during a trip to Thailand for $30 to $40, the complaint says. Records show Bigler flew from Los Angeles to Taiwan on March 1, 2015, and returned 12 days later, according to investigators.
The complaint states he then began asking for a girl or boy who had never had sexual contact before.
“Steel the (girl) if you have to. (Boy) also. Want them both tomorrow night,” read a September 2015 message.
Broker replied: “cause I got a (girl) brand new recently stolen only (8 years old) and a (boy) (10 years old).”
Bigler last crossed into Mexico in April, according to the complaint. He was arrested Aug. 14.
The men are being charged under the PROTECT Act, signed by former President George W. Bush in 2003, which makes it illegal in the U.S. to travel across state or foreign lines with the intent to have sex with minors. The crime comes with a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.
One of the first men convicted under the law in 2004, John W. Seljan of Garden Grove, was 85 when he was arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport preparing to leave for the Philippines. In his suitcase was pornography featuring him with children and 100 pounds of chocolate.
Ugarte said the U.S. government should be prosecuting more travelers under the PROTECT Act.
“Until you start arresting the buyers, it’s going to continue,” she said.
The issue got national attention last year when a former Ohio seminary student was arrested after getting off a plane in San Diego to travel to Tijuana to rape infant and toddler girls.
Joel Alexander Wright, 23, studying to become a Roman Catholic priest, posted an online ad saying he wanted to adopt infants in Mexico, and then told the man who answered that he really wanted them for sex. The man eventually reported the conversations to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and a U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agent went undercover to build a case against Wright with help of the informant.
Wright pleaded guilty to attempted enticement of a minor and was sentenced in San Diego federal court to 16 years in prison.
“That’s one of a million,” Ugarte said of Wright.
Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.