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Moreno Valley school board member gets 14 years for pimping

Mike Rios was convicted in February of running a prostitution ring out of his home.

March 08, 2013|By Hailey Branson-Potts and Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times
  • Mike Rios, a Moreno Valley school board member who was convicted of running a prostitution ring out of his home, was sentenced Friday to 14 years in state prison.
Mike Rios, a Moreno Valley school board member who was convicted of running… (KTLA-TV Channel 5 )

A Moreno Valley school board member who was convicted of running a prostitution ring out of his home — once flashing his district business card to recruit a young woman — was sentenced Friday to 14 years in state prison.

Riverside County Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Brusselback said Mike Rios' actions and his total lack of remorse called for a stiff prison sentence. Rios continues to insist he was the victim of a political vendetta, which Brusselback said was evidence of a "warped sense of reality."

"Given his position on the school board, the crimes he committed are a breach of the public trust of the highest order," the prosecutor said.

Superior Court Judge Gary Tranbarger brushed aside a request by Rios' defense attorney to limit the sentence to four years in prison, or probation. Rios, shackled and dressed in a bright orange jail outfit, showed little emotion as the judge read the sentence in a Riverside courtroom.

Cleveland Johnson, president of the Moreno Valley Unified School District board, called Rios' prison sentence a "relief." Rios declined to step down from the board after his arrest and was attending board meetings while out on bail. Johnson said that he had pleaded with Rios, a member of the school board since 2010, to resign for the benefit for the school district but that Rios had refused.

"There were a lot of things that Mr. Rios did that didn't make much sense," Johnson said Friday afternoon. "He really didn't care about us, or the district."

In February, a jury convicted Rios of 23 felony charges, including a dozen counts of pimping, five counts of pandering and six counts of insurance fraud.

During the trial, young women testified that Rios ran a prostitution ring in 2011 and 2012. One of the women told the jury that Rios approached her on the street with a school district business card in his hand and a job opportunity on his mind: He wanted her "to gather girls and sell them," she said.

The young woman, identified in court only as Valery, testified that she and others worked as prostitutes for Rios. In addition, 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," she said.

Prosecutors said that Rios ran a prostitution ring out of his Moreno Valley home, that he acted as a pimp for three adult female prostitutes and that he tried to recruit another adult woman and two minors. Rios recruited women, took provocative photos of them in his home and posted the photos in online ads, they said.

Deputy Public Defender Michael J. Micallef argued during the trial that Rios ran a business involving women stripping, dancing and performing for money but that it "had nothing to do with sex."

Micallef said Rios plans to appeal the conviction.

Rios, 42, was arrested in February 2012 on attempted murder charges after, authorities say, he shot at two people near his home. The attempted murder case is pending.

Rios was released on bail but arrested again in April on suspicion of pimping.

After both arrests last year, Rios returned to the five-member school board, which could not remove him unless he was convicted. The board passed a resolution calling for Rios to resign, but he refused, board Vice President Tracey B. Vackar said.

He attended a board study session the week his trial began, Vackar said.

With his sentencing, Rios was automatically removed from the board Friday, Vackar said. The board must decide whether to appoint a member to fill his place or to hold a special election to fill his seat, she said.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

phil.willon@latimes.com

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