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2 'Most Wanted' Actors Face Child Sex Accusations

July 20, 2001|CAITLIN LIU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two actors on television's "America's Most Wanted" face felony charges involving sex with a 14-year-old girl living at an abused children's shelter in Van Nuys, where the show was on location, prosecutors said Thursday.

Cristian Saliadarre, 28, surrendered to authorities Wednesday, two weeks after 27-year-old Anthony Alvarez was arrested, Deputy Dist. Atty. Melinda Murray said. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Arrest warrants had been issued for the men on May 16 after they were charged in absentia with sodomy and oral copulation with a person under 16, Murray said.

The alleged incident occurred the night of Jan. 30. A film crew had been shooting a segment for the popular TV program in an alley next to Children of the Night, a Sylvan Street shelter for sexually abused teens and former prostitutes.

After striking up a conversation with the 14-year-old, one of the defendants allegedly climbed through a window into her dormitory room and had sex with her, according to prosecutors and police. Later the girl climbed out her window and allegedly had sex with the other defendant in the alley, authorities said.

Defense attorneys said their clients did not know the girl was 14.

"My client is innocent," said Alvarez's lawyer, Gilbert Moret. "The girl in question . . . misled my client into believing she was older."

Saliadarre's lawyer, Sammy Weiss, said there "was no intent to commit any crime." Weiss added that Saliadarre is an actor and model with a "promising career" who appeared regularly on the show.

The alleged victim, now 15, said in an interview she had consensual sex with the two men. After the first man removed a screen and climbed through the window, the girl said, he asked her if the shelter was a group home. "I said, 'Yeah, you can say that.' "

Nevitt Greene, production manager for "America's Most Wanted," confirmed that both men had appeared on the show, which does not have a permanent cast, and had been placed by a Los Angeles casting agency. He said he doubted either defendant had been employed by the show more than once, but said he could not be certain.

The Jan. 30 filming was for a segment on Jose Marin, a North Hollywood man wanted by Los Angeles police in the fatal shooting of another man in Van Nuys. Because of the criminal case involving the girl, a Fox Television executive said, the segment will not air.

LAPD homicide detectives said Marin remains a fugitive.

In a statement, Samuel Bramhall, a senior vice president for Fox's 20th Television, which distributes "America's Most Wanted," said the alleged incidents occurred after the filming had concluded for the night and the crew and actors had been sent home.

"America's Most Wanted" broadcasts reenactments of unsolved crimes. Since the weekly show debuted in 1988, 677 of its featured fugitives have been caught.

Lois Lee, executive director of Children of the Night, said she was pleased charges had been filed against the men, but she criticized the police and district attorney's office for taking nearly four months to secure the arrest warrants.

"Something is really odd," Lee said. She added that at one point an LAPD detective suggested Lee's complaints on the pace of the investigation could interfere with an award "America's Most Wanted" was about to receive.

The detective with whom Lee said she spoke is on vacation and could not be reached for comment. But Murray said the length of investigations varies, and the case was handled properly. "It has nothing to do with 'America's Most Wanted,' nothing at all," she said.

Prosecutors had asked for $150,000 bail for each defendant, but Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Henry Barela reduced Alvarez's bail to $20,000, which he has posted, Murray said. On Wednesday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer, over Murray's objections, released Saliadarre on his own recognizance.

If convicted, the men face a maximum three years and eight months in prison. Their preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 14.

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