Father poses as teen daughter, confronts accused child predator
FRESNO, Calif. (KMPH) - Todd Thomas is on a mission.
He’s warning parents about the dangers cellphones pose to their teenagers.
“I tell people that giving your children a cellphone is like handing them a loaded gun that can shoot itself,” he said.
Last year, Thomas came face to face with a man accused of sending his then-14-year-old daughter sexually explicit texts.
“I had to see the monster,” he said.
Detectives say Hugo Rabson had given the teenager the cellphone for free, after she went on the app Whisper to ask strangers for a phone.
Thomas and his wife had taken hers away and she was desperate.
"These phones, especially to a 14-year-old girl, it's like heroin," Thomas said.
According to court documents, it didn’t take long for Rabson to start texting the teenager.
He wanted her to call him “Master” and “Sugar Daddy,” documents reveal.
She was instructed to send him pictures and movies of herself.
Then, things escalated.
He described things he wanted to do to her -- and things he wanted to watch.
Thomas found out about the phone by accident.
He had gone into his daughter’s room, excited to share a new "Star Wars" video game had been released -- when he spotted the phone.
“It was in her hand and she was passed out,” Thomas said.
He went through the messages.
“It was real disturbing,” he said. “I freaked out when I read it.
"He's a demon. A monster."
He texted Rabson, posing as the teenager, and even made plans to meet him the following day at a Clovis park.
Once Rabson showed up, he confronted him.
He later shared the video to social media.
“As a father, I had to tell him that I know who you are. I know what you did. And I had to see the monster myself,” Thomas said. “He tried to leave. I football blocked him. I told him he couldn’t go anywhere and this was a citizen’s arrest.”
Police and sheriff’s deputies showed up a short time later.
The sheriff’s department says in situations like this, it’s best to put them in the loop from the start.
"We could approach it better from a law enforcement standpoint to make the case even stronger when we have to arrest them,” said sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti. “There are things we can do the general public wouldn't think about."
Deputies took Rabson’s phone.
An arrest took months.
Court documents say Rabson had used technology so the texts wouldn’t trace back to him.
Detectives tracked internet records and email addresses.
They served warrants with internet and cable providers.
Rabson was arrested in January by the U.S. Marshals Task Force and quickly posted bail.
Fox26 News reached out to his attorney but did not hear back.
Thomas says since he recorded -- and shared -- the sting, he’s heard from other accusers.
"This demon has many victims. Many victims. They don't want their names out there,” Thomas said. “They're asking me to fight this for them."
The sheriff's department is asking any other accusers to call 559-600-3111.