Crime

Feds were waiting when sex trafficking suspect arrived in Turlock on Greyhound

Experts discuss warning signs of human trafficking

Steve Anderson, a SVU detective for Modesto Police Department, and Debbie Johnson, of the Without Permission organization, discuss the red flags of human trafficking in a video made for parents.
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Steve Anderson, a SVU detective for Modesto Police Department, and Debbie Johnson, of the Without Permission organization, discuss the red flags of human trafficking in a video made for parents.

An Arizona man was indicted Thursday on suspicion of traveling to Turlock to lure an underage girl into prostitution.

The girl was actually an undercover investigator who used a lengthy Instagram exchange to build a case against Robert Frenchie McGriff, 39, of Mesa, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

McGriff was arrested upon arriving June 8 from Phoenix at the Greyhound bus stop on North Golden State Boulevard, the affidavit said. He was walking toward a nearby motel to meet the supposed girl, the filing said.

A federal grand jury in Fresno indicted McGriff on charges of attempted sex trafficking and attempted interstate transportation with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity of a minor. He remained in federal custody as of Friday afternoon.

The affidavit said the case started March 8, when McGriff sent an unsolicited message to an undercover Instagram account created by the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Special Investigations Unit. The account purported to be owned by a 17-year-old named Trish and contained “prostitution related activity,” the filing said.

The affidavit quotes numerous excerpts from an Instagram exchange that lasted into early June, sprinkled with profanity and with slang about prostitution.

“I’ll be the only daddy you’ll ever need,” McGriff says at one point, according to investigators.

Stanislaus County notified federal authorities about the case, and it was taken up by the Stockton office of Homeland Security Investigations. Federal agents tracked McGriff’s mobile phone as he rode Greyhound from Phoenix to Turlock, the affidavit said.

The defendant faces 10 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted in U.S. District Court in Fresno.

“Count this one for the good guys,” said a post Friday on the sheriff’s Facebook page. “Sheriff’s investigators took a bad guy off the street that was preying on underage girls!!!”

The case is part of Project Safe Childhood, a national campaign launched in 2006 against child abuse and sexual exploitation.

John Holland covers breaking news and has been with The Modesto Bee since 2000. He has covered agriculture for the Bee and at newspapers in Sonora and Visalia. He was born and raised in San Francisco and has a journalism degree from UC Berkeley.
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