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Orange County

Possible Victims Sought

July 23, 2002|MAI TRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Police are looking for more victims of a man who is accused of molesting two boys at a Fountain Valley athletic club where thousands of children spend time in the summer and after school.

Rafael Benitez, 31, of Santa Ana was arrested July 15 on suspicion of molesting two boys, ages 11 and 13, at Los Caballeros Sports Club on Newhope Street.

Police contend that Benitez approached the boys in the club's locker room and befriended them with conversation and small gifts over a period of weeks. They accuse him of molesting them in the locker room on separate days this month.

"His weapon is his charm and demeanor," Fountain Valley Police Sgt. Kevin Thomas said. "Over a period of time, he gains their trust."

The pattern leads investigators to believe other children may have been victimized but have not come forward. Police warn that Benitez has a history of hanging around youths at pools, parks and beaches.

Benitez, who was a member at the club for about a year, was arrested after the incidents were reported to club managers; police decline to give further details. He told authorities his name was Rafael Ramon, but investigators found his true name through fingerprints.

He was charged with attempted forcible sodomy, oral copulation of a minor, lewd conduct and child annoyance, and is being held at Orange County Jail in lieu of $250,000.

The charge is at least the second against Benitez since 1994, when he was arrested on suspicion of molesting an 11-year-old boy. Benitez pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child annoyance and was placed on three years' probation, police said.

Los Caballeros is a 17-acre facility that has thousands of children participating in summer camp, and yearlong sports and dance programs.

"My kids are almost 6 feet tall and I thought I didn't have to think about that kind of stuff anymore," said Becky Carlson of Rancho Santa Margarita as she dropped off her 13- and 15-year-old sons. "This is a nice club and I had no cause for concern before. But now I'm going to have to warn them that they have to be with other children at all times."

Wallace Rodecker, a managing owner of Los Caballeros, said the children's summer programs are under constant supervision.

"We were shocked ... and immediately contacted the Fountain Valley police," Rodecker said. He said investigators asked him not to discuss the case further.

Police ask anyone with information about possible victims to call them at (714) 593-4485.

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