WOODLAND -- A 21-year-old Contra Costa County man is facing 10 criminal charges in connection to his relationship with a 16-year-old Winters girl.
Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig said Jeremiah Bessolo-Marsh, 21, used the girl as a sex slave and, among other things, profited from sex videos and pictures of her that he peddled on the internet.
The sex trafficking-related charges include having sex with a minor, providing drugs to a minor and dissuading her to testify against him.
The seven-month investigation was unusual for a town the size of Winters but the police department was assisted by the Yolo County Human Trafficking Unit.
"She loved him. It was a relationship that started out as a boyfriend/girlfriend," said David Gonzalez with the Winters Police Department.
During a seven-month investigation initiated by a Winters School Resource officer, investigators say the runaway girl was manipulated.
"Kind of looked up to him being 21 years old," Gonzalez told FOX40. "'He can help me out' kind of thing. That’s definitely where the manipulation kicked in."
It may seem strange that a young person from such a small town would be involved in a sex trafficking case but Winters Police Chief John Miller says it can happen anywhere.
"With the information and technology age and internet now they have access to the world. And, likewise, the world has access to them," Miller said.
This case is unusual in that it came close to becoming another case of a teenage runaway, except for the small town concern that caused police to dig deeper. According to the indictment, Bessolo-Marsh tried to dissuade the girl from talking to police and also violated a restraining order issued against him by contacting the alleged victim.
Reisig said his recently formed human trafficking unit helped Winters police develop the case against Bessolo-Marsh.
"Whether you live in Dunnigan, Winters, Sacramento, West Sacramento, you need to be aware this is happening to our kids," Reisig said.
Bessolo-Marsh’s public defender entered a standard not guilty plea for now. Bail was set at $325,000.
Meanwhile, the victim is now returning to a more normal life.
"She's doing really well now. She’s in school, she even has a part-time job now," Gonzalez said. "She’s doing really well. She’s able to live her life as a 17-year-old kid again."
The suspect's family were also in court for support. They became agitated when hearing the charges filed against Bessolo-Marsh.