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2 Prison Guards Caught in Sting

The men are stopped during a sweep of prostitutes along a Lancaster highway.

March 23, 2004|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

Two correctional officers from Lancaster state prison were among 32 men arrested in a prostitution sting operation along a stretch of Sierra Highway, officials said Monday.

Officers David Gomez and Mario Paniagua were driving along the highway in a Mitsubishi Montero around 8 p.m. Friday when they stopped alongside a decoy prostitute who was an undercover female deputy from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the district attorney's office said.

Sheriff's deputies arrested Gomez, 28, on suspicion of loitering for purposes of soliciting a prostitute and Paniagua, 30, on suspicion of assisting in an act of indecent exposure, Deputy Dist. Atty. David Berger said. Both charges are misdemeanors.

The guards are four-year California Department of Corrections employees, said Lt. Ken Lewis, a spokesman at the prison. They were cited and released Friday. They were back at work Monday but could be suspended or fired if they are found guilty, Lewis said.

Berger said the sting was part of an effort to combat what he called the "all too common" presence of prostitutes along the highway, a north-south route connecting Palmdale and Lancaster that is dotted with inexpensive hotels.

Six female prostitutes were also arrested as part of the operation Thursday and Friday, Berger said.

A city of Lancaster law allows authorities to seize vehicles used in alleged solicitation cases.

Deputies impounded 30 cars, including the Montero, Berger said. The cars will remain in police custody, pending civil forfeiture hearings.

Gomez and Paniagua are scheduled to appear in criminal court April 23.

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