Two Chico residents and two teens from Manteca each will face trial for allegedly trafficking a 15-year-old girl from her Manteca home to various Central Coast locales before pimping her out of a San Luis Obispo motel, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Brianna Day Morales and Fabio Bettencourt Silveira, both 20, of Chico; and Elijah Joel Wolfson, 19, of Manteca, have pleaded not guilty to felony human trafficking charges.
Nikko Anaya, 16, one of the Manteca teens, is being charged as an adult in the case and also has pleaded not guilty.
At a preliminary hearing in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Wednesday, Judge Michael Duffy ultimately ruled that enough probable cause exists to take the cases to trial. He did so after hearing from only one witness, a San Luis Obispo detective who testified she interviewed the alleged victim after members of the group were arrested.
No physical evidence was presented, and the detective said the alleged victim — referred to in court as Jane Doe because of her age — told her some of the defendants didn’t participate in various parts of the alleged prostitution.
You’ve got all the indicators that something’s wrong with this story — that you’re not getting the whole story.
Robert Sanger, attorney for Nikko Anaya
The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office contends that over a six-day period in July 2015, Anaya prostituted the teen — his girlfriend, according to a police report — to as many as 20 men before the girl called her father, who directed authorities to a motel on the 1600 block of Monterey Street in San Luis Obispo.
Morales, Silveira and Wolfson were present at various times during that week. Though they didn’t place online ads or handle money, none did anything to stop the abuse, prosecutors allege.
San Luis Obispo police officers found the teen alone in the hotel room on July 28 after being contacted by the Manteca Police Department about a missing teenager who possibly was being prostituted.
San Luis Obispo police Lt. John Bledsoe said at the time that officers found the girl shaking and crying hysterically inside the room.
Officers soon arrested Morales, Silveira and Anaya, who had briefly left the hotel. Wolfson was already in custody at the time after being arrested in a separate incident days earlier for an outstanding warrant from San Joaquin County.
Deputy District Attorney Julie Antos called Alison Martinez, the detective who interviewed Jane Doe, as her only witness Wednesday. Asked to recall the interview, Martinez said the teen told her that she had been driven from Manteca to Santa Cruz by Anaya and Morales in Morales’ car.
Martinez said Jane Doe told her that while in Santa Cruz, Anaya began “acting weird” and saying the girl “owed him” because he was paying for her meals. Doe reportedly told Martinez that Anaya demanded the girl have sex with men for money to pay him back.
(Jane Doe) told (Anaya) several times that she wanted to go home and he said that’s not going to happen.
San Luis Obispo Police Detective Alison Martinez
Jane Doe said the group — Morales, Anaya, Wolfson and herself — then traveled to Pismo Beach, where Jane Doe had sex with between five and seven men at a Motel 6, Martinez said. Each time, the group would leave the victim alone in the room with the customer or drop her off at the customer’s house, and Anaya would alert the teen via text message when 30 minutes were up, Martinez testified.
The sex was arranged through online ads placed by Anaya as well as via text messages, Martinez said.
Martinez said Jane Doe told her she didn’t want to have sex with the men, but that Anaya frightened her and twice threw her on a bed and strangled her when she complained.
“(She) told (Anaya) several times that she wanted to go home, and he said that’s not going to happen,” Martinez said. “She was fearful.”
While in Pismo Beach, Martinez testified, Wolfson, Anaya and Jane Doe were pulled over by the CHP, who arrested Wolfson on the warrant and dropped Anaya and Jane Doe off at a home on the 200 block of Foothill Boulevard. There, the two met up with Morales, and the group was then joined by Silveira.
The four then checked into the San Luis Obispo motel room, which Morales paid for and where the teen had sex with at least five men, Martinez testified.
Under cross examination by the defendants’ four attorneys, Martinez testified that she only interviewed Jane Doe twice — once at the police station following the arrests and then again briefly weeks later on the phone at the direction of the DA’s Office — and only ever considered her a victim.
Though evidence has not been presented in court, Anaya’s attorney, Robert Sanger, implied during questioning that Jane Doe has a history of prostitution arrests in Manteca.
Sanger argued to Judge Duffy that Antos presented no evidence that Anaya committed any of the alleged crimes, and that evidence contrary to the prosecution’s case was not being presented. He cited dash-cam video and audio footage from the CHP traffic stop in Pismo Beach, in which Sanger said Jane Doe does not appear in distress and gives officers a fake name and address.
Sanger’s motion to San Joaquin Superior Court for Jane Doe’s juvenile arrest records were denied, and Sanger argued before Duffy that those records are important to his client’s defense.
“There’s plenty of evidence this young woman is making this up,” Sanger told Duffy. “She was an active prostitute prior to this. And (prosecutors) know that, and they’re not telling you that.”
Sanger also said Jane Doe was involved in a previous criminal case for a man who paid for sex with her in Manteca.
“That man is now in state prison,” Sanger said.
During questioning by Silveira’s attorney, Christine Cummings, Martinez — the lead investigator in the case — testified she knew very little about Silveira, including how he knew the other defendants, and never talked to him after his arrest. Martinez said Jane Doe told her Silveira never communicated with any prospective customers, never posted any ads, never received money and never threatened Jane Doe.
In their closing arguments, each of the defense attorneys argued to Duffy there was no evidence their respective clients trafficked Jane Doe for sex and that the prosecution’s case rested on the testimony of one witness, and that the alleged victim had multiple opportunities to escape her captors if she was being held against her will.
“You’ve got all the indicators that something’s wrong with this story — that you’re not getting the whole story,” Sanger said.
Cummings said Silveira was only with the group for about a day before they were arrested.
“These were activities going on well before Mr. Silveira ever came on the scene,” Cummings said. “Frankly, your honor, I have no idea why Mr. Silveira is here.”
“He did show up late, I agree,” Antos said before arguing that Silveira helped Anaya and Morales decide upon prices. “At that point, he’s in for a penny, in for a pound.”
In his ruling, Duffy said the alleged victim’s statements to Martinez were enough to take the case to trial, despite the confusion of which defendant did exactly what.
“I do find that their participation … in the arranging (for the sex) could in the least show they were aiding and abetting,” Duffy said.
All four defendants will be back in court for a second arraignment May 18.