A months long undercover operation to identify suspects victimizing children online has led to five arrests for attempting to meet and have sex with juveniles in Jackson County. The Southern Oregon Child Exploitation Team (SOCET) joint inter-agency task force made the arrests over a two-day period this last weekend. The suspects arrested spanned the ages of 35 to 72 years old, and traveled from throughout Oregon including Warren, Redmond, and Klamath Falls, as well as Montague, California. One suspect local to the Rogue Valley was arrested in Gold Hill.
This was a complex undercover operation consisting of police and investigators from Jackson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), United States Marshals Service, Oregon State Police (OSP), Sutherlin Police Department, Grants Pass Police Department (GPPD), and Medford Police Department (MPD); as well as prosecutors from the US Department of Justice and the Jackson County District Attorney’s office. Due to the complexity of this operation and the dangers involved in the arrests, SOCET also enlisted assistance from other local police task forces including Medford Area Gang and Drug Enforcement, Illegal Marijuana Enforcement Team, and Pacific Northwest Violent Offenders Task Force.
The first arrest came Friday at 4 pm when Benjamin Lee Buehler, 35, of Klamath Falls, Ore. traveled to Medford to meet with a juvenile to have sex. Buehler communicated with the child that he planned to have sex then drove from Klamath Falls to meet. SOCET contacted Buehler as he was attempting to meet the child. Buehler is charged with first-degree online sexual corruption of a child, and luring a minor. He was lodged in the Jackson County Jail. Per the Herald News, Buehler received an award for Father of the Year in 2016 from the National Fathers and Families Coalition of America.
The next arrest came a few hours later when Justin Elridge, 39, of Montague, Calif. traveled to Medford to engage in sexual activity with a juvenile. SOCET arrested Eldridge as he arrived at the meetup location. Eldridge has been federally charged with persuading any individual who has not attained the age of 18 years to engage in sexual activity, and travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct. Eldridge was lodged at the Jackson County Jail on a federal hold. The case is being federally prosecuted in the District of Oregon.
The final arrest of the first night came just after 8 pm when Jack Owrey, 59, of Crooked River Ranch, Ore. communicated online with a juvenile. During the conversation, Owrey indicated he wanted to provide the underage child with illegal narcotics and to engage in sexual activity. On Friday night Owrey traveled from near Redmond, Ore. to Medford to meet with the juvenile. At 8:07 pm, SOCET arrested Owrey as he attempted to contact the child. Owrey is charged with two counts each of first and second-degree online sexual corruption of a child, luring a minor, and attempting to use a child in display of sexually explicit conduct. Owrey was lodged in the Jackson County Jail.
Day two of the operation started with the arrest of William Henry Trapnell, 72, of Warren, Ore. Trapnell agreed to meet with a juvenile in Medford to engage in sexual contact. Trapnell then drove five hours from Warren to Medford to meet with the child in person. He was arrested by SOCET attempting to contact the child at 3:38 pm. Trapnell is charged with first and second degree online sexual corruption of a child, and luring a minor and was lodged in the Jackson County Jail.
The final arrest on Saturday was Leonard Allen Weedman, 63, of Gold Hill. Weedman communicated and planned to have sexual contact with a juvenile. Weedman made plans to meet as soon as the child could sneak away and not get caught. SOCET arrested Weedman at 4:55 pm as he was attempting to meet up with the juvenile in Gold Hill. Weedman is charged with two counts of both first and second-degree online sexual corruption of a child, luring a minor, and using a child in display of sexually explicit conduct. Weedman was lodged in the Jackson County Jail.
During the arrests, investigators seized digital devices which will be examined by the Southern Oregon High Tech Crimes Task Force (SOHTCTF) in Medford. SOHTCTF examiners will forensically examine the devices for further evidence of child exploitation. During this investigation, an individual was discovered trading nearly 400 child pornography videos of prepubescent children. This child porn case is an ongoing investigation of a suspect believed to be residing in the US.
SOCET enables local law enforcement agencies to collaborate with federal partners such as HSI, to effectively investigate and prosecute out-of-state suspects when they victimize children in our community. SOCET is a joint inter-agency task force that started in June of 2020 to combat child exploitation and human trafficking. The task force consists of investigators from JCSO, MPD, GPPD, and HSI; as well as prosecutors from our local, state and federal law enforcement partners in Jackson and Josephine County.
Investigators have reason to believe these suspects may have other victims. If anyone has additional information on the suspects, call your local law enforcement agency or the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office tip line at (541) 774-8333.
Courtesy of JCSO