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HOUSTON — A 33-year-old unlawfully present Honduran national was convicted Aug. 24 of taking a minor on a cross country trip against her will for sex.
HSI Houston assisted the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service in the investigation.
Wilmer Rivera-Hernandez pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to interstate travel with intent to engage in a sex act with a minor.
In June 2020, Wilmer Rivera-Hernandez took a 15-year-old girl on what was supposed to be a date. However, the event ended up being a three-day trip across the country against the victim’s will.
The girl told Rivera-Hernandez to take her home, but he refused and drove her out of the Houston area. During the drive, he bought alcohol and forced her to drink it, threatening her and her family if she refused to obey him. He kept her in a state of intoxication so she could not recognize where she was. He also kept her cellphone, which prevented her from seeking help.
On one evening during the trip, Rivera-Hernandez took the minor victim to a motel near Little Rock, Arkansas, where he raped her.
She attempted to get help on two occasions after getting temporary access to her phone. One was unsuccessful, but she was eventually able to text her family and told them he could kill her and to call the police. Authorities were able to quickly find Rivera-Hernandez and the victim in his car, which was parked at a truck stop in Knoxville, Tennessee.
While in custody, Rivera-Hernandez also attempted to obstruct justice. He arranged for the distribution of fabricated WhatsApp messages purporting to be from the minor victim. In them, he made it appear the minor had recanted her claims of kidnapping and rape and hoped it would lead to the dismissal of the charges. He was unsuccessful when the investigation revealed the messages originated from him.
Rivera-Hernandez is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 20. At that time, he faces up to life in federal prison.
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and Knox County (Tennessee) Sheriff’s Office assisted with the rescue. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sharad Khandelwal and Stephanie Bauman prosecuted the case.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 866-347-2423. The tipline is staffed around the clock by investigators. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Hearing impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.
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