Sonora, California – Tuolumne County District Attorney Laura Krieg announced today that Daniel Leon Clifton, 35, of Oakdale, was sentenced to 21 years, 4 months state prison in Tuolumne County’s first ever filed and prosecuted Human Trafficking case.
District Attorney Krieg explained that in 2005, California passed Assembly Bill 22 which added the crime of Human Trafficking to the California Penal Code. The mission is to protect every person in our state, particularly children, from all forms of sexual exploitation.
In October of 2014, Detective Lowry from the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office met with a confidential victim aged 18. She reported that 3 years prior she had been contacted through a teen dating app called “Skout” by Daniel Clifton. Online he identified himself as being 17 years of age. In reality, he was 31 years of age. The two began an online friendship and eventually met in person. Clifton began giving the victim gifts and eventually the two entered into a sexual relationship while the victim was still 15 years old. Over the course of the next three years, Clifton had the victim send him numerous photos and videos depicting sexual acts. Clifton also came to Sonora approximately once a month and met the victim and engaged in sexual acts. At one point, Clifton asked the victim to marry him and promised that he would marry her when she turned 18.
Shortly before the victim’s 18th birthday, she received a text message from a number she did not recognize. The message stated “I know all about your guys’ relationship. You both need to stop seeing each other or I am going to turn his … in to the cops.” The victim responded begging to be told who was contacting her and to not turn them in. The unknown person persisted in asking the victim how far she would go to protect the secret and told the victim she must do something for him. He then demanded she send him child pornography of herself which included both videos and photos. The requests then escalated to demanding the victim send nude photos and videos of her 8 year old sister and demanding the victim engage in sex acts with family members and film them. When the victim refused, the unknown person threatened that he would kidnap and rape the 8 year old sister and make the victim watch. At that point, the victim went to law enforcement and reported the relationship and incident.
Through investigation, Detective Lowry determined that the unknown person contacting the victim was actually Daniel Clifton himself. Through extortion and blackmail he sought to obtain more and more images and videos of child pornography. Investigation also revealed that he would use the victim’s images to set up online profiles and portray himself to be a 15 year old female. With these profiles he attempted to engage in other relationships with underage females.
Search warrants were served at Clifton’s home and place of work. Computers were seized and analyzed. Over 19,000 images of child pornography were discovered with victims being portrayed who appeared to be as young as 5 years old.
“When Detective Lowry presented the investigative reports of this case to me, I found it to be one of the most egregious and offensive cases I had ever reviewed as a prosecutor,” Krieg stated. “I also felt that it transcended beyond a case of child molest and child pornography,” Krieg explained.
“Here we had a true case of exploitation through fear, threats, and blackmail, and so I began reviewing the statute on Human Trafficking. The typical human trafficking case that we hear about in the press is where minors are being forced into the sex trade for commercial gain. This case was different. As I reviewed the human trafficking statute, the other provision of that law provides that any person who violates another’s personal liberty with the intent to effect a violation of a specific crime, including child pornography and extortion, is guilty of trafficking. I felt that Clifton’s actions met that provision and I decided to file and proceed with a human trafficking case,” said Krieg.
Krieg filed a total of 21 felony counts against Clifton including, but not limited to, human trafficking, unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, criminal threats, meeting a minor for lewd purposes, sending harmful matter to a minor, oral copulation of a person under 16, and sexual penetration with a foreign object.
The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office investigated this case. Of note, were the contributions of Detective Brandon Lowry in thoroughly investigating all aspects of the case, including working with the Victim and interviewing the defendant.
Clifton pled guilty to human trafficking, criminal threats, and possession of over 600 images of child pornography on September 28, 2015. On October 26, 2015, Clifton was sentenced to 21 years, 4 months in state prison.