A child-pornography suspect who authorities say lured youngsters with gifts and trips to Disneyland was investigated on several molestation claims years earlier, authorities said.
Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said authorities have identified up to 11 children whom they believe were molested by Earl Venton Buchanan, who was arrested last week after officials seized a videotape that appeared to show him fondling a boy who was “sleeping or heavily sedated.”
Police in Banning, about 90 miles east of Los Angeles, were alerted to Buchanan in 2000 and 2001 by people who accused him of molesting girls, Deputy Chief Leonard Purvis said. Investigators turned over the reports to San Bernardino County sheriff’s officials because of where the accusers said the girls were molested, he said.
Sheriff’s officials said Wednesday they were investigating how many reports their department handled.
“It’s difficult to get filings in a lot of (molestation) cases because there’s no physical evidence,” said sheriff’s Sgt. Rick Ells.
In adjacent Riverside County, child-welfare workers fielded four complaints about Buchanan as early as 2000, said county spokesman Ray Smith. He said investigators either concluded the children were safe in their homes or the allegations could not be substantiated. He said the children denied the allegations.
Buchanan, 62, was arrested July 3 after returning from Mexico in a van with a 5-year-old boy in his lap, authorities said. It was unclear if the boy on the tape found by the Calexico border inspectors was also the boy in the van.
When investigators asked Buchanan if he was the person fondling the boy on the tape, he responded, “Yeah,” according to a criminal complaint. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.
Buchanan pleaded not guilty to a charge of transporting child pornography and was being held at Imperial County Jail. He has not been charged with molestation.
His court-appointed attorney, Stephen Peterson, declined to comment.
Authorities said Buchanan rented homes to low-income tenants, won their parents’ trust and showered the children with the amusement park trips, dirt bikes, clothes and video games.
Cache of video games, DVDs
A search of Buchanan’s home last week turned up a warehouse containing a bedroom and adjoining children’s room stocked with video games and DVDs of children’s movies. Several children’s U.S. birth certificates were also found.
Among the children in the earlier complaints were some — probably three or four — who were named in reports to child protection agencies in Southern California, Mack said.
One of Buchanan’s neighbors in Bloomington, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County, said she grew suspicious of the number of children that always seemed to be at his house. She said she called authorities on a toll-free hot line, but they never got back to her.
“We were aware of this and no one seemed to care,” said the woman, who did not want to be identified because she was concerned Buchanan could be released on bail.
Some of Buchanan’s tenants were families from Mexico who were in the country illegally, Ells said. He said that on a few occasions he threatened parents with deportation.
“They saw him as sort of an authority figure,” Ells said.