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Skateboarders' Mentor Is Suspect in Molestations

The registered sex offender is accused of using a Web site to lure teens to his home, promising sponsorship in the sport.

September 25, 2003|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

For budding skaters from Pennsylvania to Arizona, Ethan Marrick was an entree to the cutthroat world of skateboarding. He provided teenagers with sponsorship from Hektic Skateboards, profiled them on his Web site and drove them to competitions throughout California and the Southwest.

The problem was that Ethan Marrick didn't exist.

Marrick was an alias for Nicky Hernandez, a registered sex offender who served six years in California prisons for child molestation. Hernandez, who was released in 1999, is now accused of videotaping and molesting teenagers after luring them to his home in West Hollywood to join his skateboarding team.

Hernandez was arrested last month and has been charged with molesting seven boys, six of whom have been identified through videotapes, the Web site and documents seized from the defendant's house. The alleged victims are 13 to 16 years old.

Both a videotape and a CD show Hernandez molesting the children, and a second videotape shows the children in a bathroom, authorities said. It appears that some of the teens were drugged, prosecutors said.

"I'm not sure these kids even know what happened to them," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Janis Johnson. "The victims may not know they are victims."

Detectives believe that there are more victims. The U.S. attorney's office is also reviewing the case.

Crimes using the Internet as a tool have been on the rise in the last several years because of the explosion of people with online access, according to law enforcement experts. From 1996 through mid-2002, federal agents saw a nearly 2,000% jump in the number of cyber-related child pornography and exploitation cases opened, from 113 to 2,370 nationally, FBI statistics show.

Larry Cho, who heads the terrorism and organized crime section at the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, said targeting these criminals is a priority.

"They are true dangers to the community," he said. "When you find a pedophile ... it's very likely that there have been multiple victims and that this person has been doing this for some time."

It is often difficult to track down victims, because many are young and afraid, or ashamed to tell their parents. The computer also offers offenders anonymity and "cloaks them in this invisibility," Cho said.

Hernandez has pleaded not guilty. He is being held on $3-million bail at the Los Angeles County Jail. A judge revoked his phone privileges last week because he had tried contacting of the alleged victims, despite a court order prohibiting him from doing so. Because he has two previous convictions, he could be sentenced to at least 25 years to life in state prison if convicted on the 31 counts, Johnson said.

Deputy Public Defender Julie Leeds declined to discuss her client's case.

Until his arrest, Hernandez worked in customer care for an insurance company, authorities said. He also ran Hektic Skateboards, his own company, which sponsored young skaters, providing them with boards, T-shirts and sweatshirts.

The Web site enthusiastically welcomes the teens to his skateboarding team. "Hektic knows there are very many talented young skaters out there that just need a chance to get a little exposure to get their skating careers going. That's where Hektic comes in," it says.

The site also displays photographs of the young skateboarders and provides a detailed diary-style list of recent news -- congratulating award-winning teenagers, wishing others happy birthday and announcing upcoming competitions.

An entry from New Year's Day reads: "A new law has been passed that allows cops to give tickets to anyone under the age of 18 who is skateboarding or riding a scooter without wearing a helmet. So now, you just gotta run extra fast."

Through the Internet, Hernandez invited teens to send applications to be part of the skateboarding team, prosecutors said.

Hernandez took the boys to competitions in Arizona, Washington and Nevada, authorities said. Occasionally, parents came along.

The boys also spent time at Hernandez's apartment on Harper Avenue in West Hollywood, with some even living there part time during the summer. According to investigators, Hernandez molested and videotaped the boys in the bathroom and the bedroom. Prosecutors believe the crimes occurred between January 2001 and last month.

"The skateboarding team gave him the opportunity to get the kids away from the families," Johnson said, adding that investigators had not determined whether any alleged abuse occurred during the competitions.

Sheriff's Det. Christopher Hicks, the lead investigator on the case, called Hernandez a con artist and a predator who tricked parents into trusting him.

"These are parents who wanted the best for their kids and they were looking for a way to get their kids into the skating industry," Hicks said. "They let that blind their gut instinct."

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