SAN DIEGO – The arrest of a man returning from Mexico with a boy on his lap led to a video-equipped warehouse outfitted for children, federal authorities said Tuesday. The man is suspected of molesting nearly a dozen children.
Earl Venton Buchanan, 62, was arrested July 3 as he drove across the border at Calexico, about 120 miles east of San Diego, with a 5-year-old boy in his lap, authorities said.
Buchanan's home in Bloomington, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, was then found to have a warehouse with a bedroom and an adjoining children's room stocked with video games and DVDs of children's movies, according to an affidavit that described a search conducted last week.
"[The children's room] had bunk beds, toys, all the kinds of things that kids would like," said Michael Unzueta, special agent in charge of investigations at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego. The bedroom and children's room were wired for video coverage.
Authorities have identified between eight and 11 children who are believed to have been molested by Buchanan, both boys and girls ranging in age from 2 to 15, Unzueta said.
San Bernardino County Sheriff Detective Steve Burgrass said Buchanan rented property to low-income families, won the parents' trust and showered the children with gifts. One received clothing, a dirt bike and video games, he said.
"He would pick [the children] up at the house, take them shopping, take them to the amusement park and then take them home to spend the night," said Burgrass, who has identified at least five victims and said there may be more.
Authorities said some parents — it was unclear how many — had complained to child protection officials about Buchanan. Burgrass said one parent who complained was a tenant.
Buchanan pleaded not guilty to child pornography charges last week in federal court in El Centro, said Steve Peterson, his court-appointed attorney, who declined further comment. Buchanan's phone number in Bloomington was unlisted.
The home's driveway begins at a black gate with the letter 'B' on it. On one side of a long cement driveway, there is a neat row of palm trees and a cement stage that holds an old fire truck and rusty machinery.
The property, which appears to be about five acres, is filled with old metal bars and building materials, a tow truck, a metal trailer, a truck that reads Buchanan Enterprises and lots of trees and scrub. There is a middle school down the street.
ICE officials initially said parents of some alleged victims may have lived on the property, but later said it was unclear if any of the children living on the property were victims.
According to the affidavit, a 15-year-old boy told investigators that Buchanan molested him two to three times a month for the last three years at homes in Mexico, Arkansas and California.
Buchanan had property in Bloomington and Hot Springs, Ark., Unzueta said.
"He seemed to have had a fairly successful career as real estate developer or broker," Unzueta said. "He's retired, so I'm sure he has time. We believe he may have taken some of his victims to Arkansas and obviously to Mexico."
Burgrass said it appeared Buchanan ran a construction business from the warehouse.
"It was like walking into Home Depot, there was tons of stuff in there," he said. "He had a little living quarters off to the side."
Buchanan was arrested on federal charges of possessing and transporting child pornography and will likely face additional federal and state charges of child pornography and child molestation, said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for ICE.
Inspectors arrested Buchanan as he drove a 1992 Ford Econoline van across the border with the 5-year-old Hispanic boy from Riverside County sitting on his lap, authorities said. They seized a videotape that appeared to show Buchanan fondling a boy who seemed to be "sleeping or heavily sedated," according to the complaint.
It was unclear if the boy on the tape was the boy in the van, Unzueta said. The videotape appeared to have been made in Buchanan's Bloomington home.
Buchanan was being held at Imperial County Jail in El Centro, Mack said. A hearing was scheduled July 18.