Over the past few days, the Sheriff’s Office was made aware of a post on Facebook regarding an incident at a local store that was purported to be involved in a human trafficking ring. The post featured a picture of an individual that was suspected to have followed women around in that store. Based upon this information, we began an investigation and would like to now share the results.
The post that was shared thousands of times on social media was actually made by an otherwise uninvolved concerned citizen who combined two accounts, one from March of last year and one that occurred on January 2, 2018. The photograph featured in the post was from the March incident, and did not depict the individual associated with the January incident.
We contacted the individual who created the January post, and encouraged her to file a report if she observed potential criminal activity. She did file a report, and we were able to investigate the incident.
On January 2nd, the young lady was in a store with her mother, and noticed a man acting suspiciously. A store employee remarked to them that the man had been in the store several times. After the young lady left the first store and entered another store next door, they observed the same man. They became concerned and notified the store, who had someone walk them to their vehicle.
We contacted the store, who had reviewed their video surveillance. The footage revealed that the male is actually a shoplifter. His suspicious actions were likely to help avoid detection, rather than for some other nefarious purpose. Also, his repeated presence in that store and the store nearby are consistent with the actions of a shoplifter.
His repeated visits to the store also led to his arrest today. While our deputies were at the store conducting the investigation, the man returned to commit another shoplifting offense. He was arrested, and has been identified as Leonardo Rodriguez, 53, of New Orleans. Rodriguez has multiple prior theft arrests, including one from the same store in this incident. He has no history of any sex crimes or violent crimes.
We understand that people are concerned for their safety. The age of social media has made passing word of crimes or dangerous situations as simple as clicking the share button at the bottom of a post. While this has made sharing information easier than ever, it can also lead to misinformation spreading quickly and causing unnecessary fear.
If you see suspicious activity, please call us. None of these incidents were reported to the Sheriff’s Office before being posted on Facebook. Please help the trained men and women of the JPSO by providing information to us directly and allow us to investigate suspicious activity.
We have no evidence that either of the incidents mentioned in the post have anything to do with human trafficking. However, JPSO takes human trafficking seriously, and has assets dedicated to investigate those offenses when they occur., Also, JPSO is part of the Greater New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force, which takes a proactive approach in these investigations. If evidence did exist that suggested human trafficking was involved in these incidents, we would have utilized every available resources to investigate those crimes and notified the citizens of any concerns.
Lieutenant Jason Rivarde
Public Information Officer