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Trial begins for Moreno Valley school board member Mike Rios

Prosecutors allege that Rios ran a prostitution ring out of his home in 2011 and 2012. He faces 35 felony charges, including rape, pandering and pimping.

January 31, 2013|By Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times
  • Mike Rios, a member of the Moreno Valley Unified School District Board of Education, faces 35 felony charges, including rape, pandering and pimping involving six females, two of them underage.
Mike Rios, a member of the Moreno Valley Unified School District Board of… (KTLA-TV Channel 5 )

The young woman on the witness stand said Mike Rios approached her on the street with a school district business card and a job opportunity: He wanted her "to gather girls and sell them," she said.

Identified in court only as Valery, she testified Wednesday that she and others worked as prostitutes for Rios, a member of the Moreno Valley Unified School District Board of Education.

Valery's testimony came on the opening day of Rios' trial in Riverside County Superior Court. He faces 35 felony charges, including rape, pandering and pimping involving six females, two of them underage.

Valery, 21, with long black hair and bangs covering her forehead, bit her lip between questions. In addition to working as a prostitute for Rios, she said, she helped recruit other young women for him.

"He told me we had to get the best-looking girls so we could get more money for them," Valery said.

Prosecutors allege that Rios ran a prostitution ring out of his Moreno Valley home in 2011 and 2012. In opening statements, Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Brusselback told the jury: "This is a case about greed. This is a case about money. This is a case about power."

Rios was "constantly trying to recruit new, young talent," Brusselback said.

Rios' attorney, Deputy Public Defender Michael J. Micallef, told jurors that Rios ran a business involving women stripping, dancing and performing for money but that it "had nothing to do with sex."

The women were free to do whatever they wanted and what they did besides stripping and dancing "wasn't necessarily known to Mr. Rios," Micallef said. Networking with women and growing his business was "the capitalist way," Micallef said.

Rios, 42, was arrested in February on attempted murder charges after he allegedly shot at two people near his home. He was released on bail but was arrested again in April on suspicion of rape, pimping and using his position on the school board to recruit would-be prostitutes.

He was released on bail again and has pleaded not guilty to all the charges in both cases.

While searching Rios' home after the alleged shooting, investigators found numerous cellphones and several condoms in the glove box of the Mercedes-Benz in his garage, testified Paul Grotefend, a Riverside County sheriff's deputy.

Prosecutors say Rios recruited women, took provocative photos of them in his home and posted the photos in online advertisements. He allegedly established a cellphone number solely for the prostitution work, drove the women to various locations to have sex and split the money they earned.

It is alleged that three adult women worked for him as prostitutes and that he attempted to recruit another adult woman and two minors.

On Wednesday, prosecutors showed jurors online advertisements with erotic photos of Valery in lingerie that she said were taken in Rios' bedroom.

Some of the ads read: "Sexy hot beautiful Latina babe Here 4 U."

Valery testified that Rios, on numerous occasions, picked her up from her home in downtown Los Angeles and brought her to his house. He bought her condoms before she met clients, she testified.

When Valery stopped communicating with Rios, he sent her text messages telling her how many missed calls there were on the cellphone he set up for prostitution, she said.

"He assumed every call that came in was a guaranteed customer," she said.

Rios is accused of raping two women, one of whom was intoxicated.

After both arrests last year, Rios returned to the five-member school board.

Though the other school board members passed a resolution calling for Rios to resign, he refused, said board Vice President Tracey B. Vackar. The board cannot remove Rios unless he is convicted, Vackar said.

Rios continues to come to board meetings, Vackar said, and even attended a board study session Tuesday night after a court appearance. Though there was disappointment after he did not resign, Rios has been treated with respect at meetings and "has not been disruptive," Vackar said.

The trial is expected to continue Thursday. The case involving the attempted murder charges — which is separate from the current case — is pending trial, with the next court date scheduled for February.

Rios, wearing a blue suit, was quiet in court Wednesday, sitting next to his attorney with his hands folded.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

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