An Uber driver accused of sexually assaulting four San Luis Obispo students pleaded not guilty to 10 felony charges on Monday in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court.
At a news conference, San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow announced his office is searching for more victims of Alfonso Alarcon-Nunez, 39, of Santa Maria, who allegedly assaulted and burglarized women after giving them rides home.
Charges against Alarcon-Nunez include rape of an intoxicated person, first-degree burglary, oral copulation of an intoxicated person and grand theft of personal property. Bail was set at $1.47 million at his arraignment, up from the $200,000 required when he was arrested.
Alarcon-Nunez will appear in court again on Jan. 29 for a preliminary hearing.
Four victims — two 19-year-olds, a 21-year-old and a 22-year-old — have been identified in San Luis Obispo County, Dow said. Three of the victims are Cal Poly students and the fourth is a Cuesta College student.
Two of the assaults occurred the night of Dec. 17 and early morning of Dec. 18, with two others on Jan. 5 and Jan. 14.
Alarcon-Nunez allegedly used the Uber ride-sharing app to scout potential victims, picking them up before their selected driver arrived. Alarcon-Nunez then requested the women use another payment app, Venmo, to give him money for the ride, instead of receiving it through the Uber app.
He allegedly used aliases, including the name Bruno Diaz and the Venmo user name Brush Bat, to conceal his identity. The third-party payment app also allowed Alarcon-Nunez to keep investigators from using his Uber transactions to track him.
Alarcon-Nunez drove for Uber in other places, including Santa Barbara, leading investigators to believe there may be additional victims, Dow said.
Suspect’s immigration status
Dow also said Alarcon-Nunez is a Mexican citizen who was voluntarily deported from New Mexico in 2005, but his immigration status won’t impact the prosecution of his case.
Alarcon-Nunez was carrying a 2015 California driver’s license, and it’s unclear how long he’s been in the United States, or when he re-entered the country after he was deported. Dow declined to comment on Alarcon-Nunez’s potential criminal background.
Dow said Alarcon-Nunez’s immigration status is relevant to the safety of Uber customers, who may be picked up by drivers with unknown backgrounds.
“If those companies are not conducting adequate background checks to make sure that they know the true identity of people who are driving, then those consumers — those of us that use those services — we don’t know for sure whether or not we’re at risk,” he said.
Uber requires its drivers to undergo a pre-screening and background check performed by a third-party provider.
According to the Uber website: “Potential drivers must provide detailed information, including their full name, date of birth, Social Security number, driver’s license number, a copy of their driver’s license, vehicle registration, insurance, and proof of a completed vehicle inspection. Individuals who pass the driving history screen then undergo a national, state, and local-level criminal history check that screens a series of national, state, and local databases. ...”
Uber drivers are also prohibited from accepting cash or third-party app payments, according to Andrew Hasbun, an Uber spokesman.
Dow advised Uber customers to verify the identity of the driver who arrives to pick them up with the driver they selected in the app. He also said to be wary of drivers who try to get customers to pay for their rides with other apps.