A Lebanese immigrant who was charged with the kidnap, rape and assault of three prostitutes eluded authorities long enough to become a naturalized U. S. citizen before being captured by a bounty hunter, according to testimony Friday in a San Fernando court.
Rabih Hamdo Alkharsa, 34, had been missing since a scheduled Jan. 15 court date until his capture June 5. San Fernando Municipal Judge Gregg Marcus held him for trial on one felony county of failing to appear.
Alkharsa also faces 12 counts of kidnaping, rape, sodomy, assault and forced oral copulation in connection with the alleged 1985 attacks.
Alkharsa, formerly of Hollywood, who said he had been a bookkeeper and restaurant owner, was free on bail when he missed his January court appearance on those charges, and is now being held without bail at County Jail.
Found in Van Nuys
Bounty hunter Ian L. Sitren, who was hired by the firm that posted Alkharsa's $7,500 bail, testified that, after two months of searching, he traced Alkharsa to a Van Nuys house. Sitren said he talked to Alkharsa's girlfriend outside the house June 5 and persuaded her to lead him to Alkharsa, who was hiding in the bathroom of a converted garage.
Sitren testified that, while he was driving Alkharsa to County Jail, Alkharsa offered him "any sum of money I wanted," in exchange for his release. Sitren said he declined the offer.
Alkharsa testified that he had gone to Beirut to visit his ailing mother two weeks before his scheduled January court appearance and was unable to return until June 2 because the airport and all roads to the airport there had been closed. He told the judge that, up to the moment of his capture, he had intended to surrender to the court on June 13, after his citizenship documentation was complete.
Alkharsa testified that he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen on June 3.
Judge Voices Skepticism
Marcus termed it "incredible" that Alkharsa had intended to turn himself in. The judge said it seemed more likely that Alkharsa had returned to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen to gain preferred status abroad.
Outside of court, Deputy Dist. Atty. Kenneth A. Loveman noted that Alkharsa "could travel anywhere he wanted" once he had obtained U.S. citizenship papers.
Alkharsa admitted under cross-examination that, before leaving for Beirut, he had bought on credit thousands of dollars in jewelry, even though the was then unemployed. He testified that he took all his savings, $3,000, to Beirut and made no arrangements to make payments on the jewelry while he was gone.
Alkharsa testified that he had been waiting until June 13 to surrender to authorities because he feared that the pending charges would jeopardize his citizenship. The Immigration and Naturalization Service was to have completed his citizenship documentation on that date, he testified.
John Bellardo, Los Angeles INS public affairs director, said the agency is seldom informed of criminal activities of those seeking citizenship after applicants are interviewed. He said applicants simply must show "good moral character" and prove that they have not committed any "crimes of moral turpitude" at the time of the interview.
"We process thousands of people a year, and, from a practical standpoint, there is no way of tracking them," Bellardo said. "When we did his interview and background check, he may have had no criminal record."
Bellardo said he could not confirm whether or not Alkharsa is now a U.S. citizen. But, if Alkharsa was sworn in as a citizen, the status cannot be revoked, he said.
Alkharsa is alleged to have picked up prostitutes in Hollywood, driven them to a utility road in Agua Dulce and assaulted them, Loveman said.
Alkharsa was arrested at the Agua Dulce road, near the Antelope Valley Freeway, on May 4 last year during a stakeout by sheriff's deputies. A 17-year-old prostitute ran screaming from Alkharsa's car and told deputies that she had just been raped, police said.
Two other victims testified during two separate preliminary hearings last fall that Alkharsa had assaulted them at the same location in April of last year.
Investigators are seeking three more alleged victims, and prosecutor Loveman said additional charges may be filed if they are found.
A trial date on the charges is expected to be set Monday.