SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office recently wrapped up a weeklong sting dubbed Operation to Catch-a-Predator.
Working with Sacramento County Probation, Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, undercover agents posed as 12- and 13-year-old boys and girls, chatting with men through online apps.
Arrests were made after suspects sent back explicit communication and tried to meet up with them at hotel rooms across Sacramento County.
“We were able to set up a decoy operation, ‘To Catch a Predator’-style, and arrest 18 folks for trying to engage in sexual activity with folks that they believed were underage girls,” said Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.
Operation Catch-a-Predator conducted last week by sheriff’s detectives, along with several other law enforcement agencies, arrested men ranging in age from 19 to 57.
FOX40 watched as one of the takedowns happened.
Video shows the undercover special agent invite the suspect into the next room where he believes they will have sex, but deputies are waiting inside to make the arrest.
Deputies get 34-year-old Robert Martinez to the ground as he tries to run from the third floor of the hotel.
Martinez was arrested on three felony charges:
- Suspicion of communicating with a minor with the intent to commit a sex offense
- Meeting with a minor for the purpose of lewd and lascivious behavior
- Attempted coercion of a minor to pose for a sexual photo
“We focus on public safety. And targeting people who sexually exploit children is part of that mission. And that’s what we’re doing here today,” explained Timothy Kotman of Homeland Security.
“We’ve gotten people in this operation alone, at the age of 19 all the way up to their 60s. And as far as what they do, we’ve got business owners, we’ve got coaches,” said Sacramento County Sheriff’s Sgt. Juan Hidalgo.
Among those arrested was 56-year-old Ronald Ray Lovell, of Tracy, a former high school girls basketball coach. He worked with sophomore girls at Kimball High School from 2010 to 2015, then as the varsity girls basketball coach at West High School from 2015 to 2019.
Lovell resigned from the Tracy Unified School District in September of 2019.
“It does cause concern. Again, it just highlights the fact that these folks come from the entire spectrum of our community,” Sheriff Jones told FOX40.
Detectives arrested Lovell on suspicion of communicating with a minor to commit a sex offense, sending harmful matter with intent to seduce a minor, and meeting a minor for lewd and lascivious behavior — all of which are felonies.
Investigators will follow up for any possible students he may have victimized while working as a coach.
“When we see something like that, where they have had a history dealing with folks that are at-risk age, especially for the types of offenses which we are doing this operation, it does cause us additional concern and necessitates additional investigative follow up to find out,” Jones said.
FOX40 contacted TUSD for comment. The associate superintendent said they never had any cause for concern during Lovell’s tenure as coach.
Sheriff Jones said his Hi-Tech Crimes and Internet Crimes Against Children task forces will continue to do these extensive operations to get child predators locked up.
The sheriff said this is a good reminder to parents to get involved with their kids’ social media habits, despite their children not wanting them to.
“Hopefully, if nothing else, stories like this will highlight that nobody is immune,” Jones said. “Every child can be the victim of a child predator, doesn’t need to be at-risk youth, it’s any youth.”