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Border Stop Sparks Porn, Molestation Case

July 12, 2006|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

A San Bernardino County man arrested at the Mexican border for allegedly possessing child pornography may have molested 10 minors, some as young as 2, federal authorities said Tuesday.

Earl Venton Buchanan, 62, was stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in Calexico on July 3. They said they became suspicious when they saw him acting nervously, returning from Mexico with a 5-year-old boy riding on his lap in an otherwise empty car.

"None of [Buchanan's] answers made any sense, or he was stammering to make answers," said Miguel Unzueta, special agent in charge with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego.

Inside the car, officers said, they discovered a video of Buchanan engaging in sex acts with a heavily sedated little boy, which appeared to have been made in Buchanan's remote Bloomington home. Officers also said they found prescription sleep medication.

Authorities said they later seized two computers, adult pornography, videos and copies of children's U.S. birth certificates from his rural, 5-acre Bloomington "compound."

Authorities said the families of several of the alleged victims are believed to be tenants renting property from Buchanan, including the 5-year-old traveling with him. The boy is now in the custody of Child Protective Services.

Buchanan owns land in San Bernardino and Riverside counties as well as Arkansas, said Sgt. Rick Ells, spokesman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

Buchanan's Bloomington property included a children's playroom outfitted with bunk beds, toys, children's movies, video games and video recording equipment, federal agents said. Buchanan's adjacent bedroom was also equipped with video recording devices. He apparently lived alone.

A 15-year-old boy told a San Bernardino County detective that Buchanan had molested him two or three times a month for the last three years, in Arkansas, Mexico and Buchanan's home, according to a federal affidavit.

The retired real estate broker and investor has an ex-wife and a grown child, Unzueta said. In 2003, he pleaded guilty in San Bernardino County Superior Court to two counts of carrying a loaded firearm in a public place.

Investigators are still trying to determine why he traveled to Mexico.

Buchanan was arrested on federal charges of possessing and transporting child pornography and could get more than 20 years in prison if convicted. Officials are trying to find all of Buchanan's alleged victims and said more federal charges were likely. It was unclear whether Buchanan was part of a child pornography production or distribution network, Unzueta said.

The Sheriff's Department is also pursuing state charges, including molestation, against Buchanan.

He is in federal custody in El Centro in Imperial County.

Authorities urge anyone with information on to the case to call the federal immigration tip line at (866) 347-2423 or San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department at (909) 387-3615.

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