Sex worker on the street, away from legal Nevada brothels. Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons
Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons

A former high school student testified Monday that a “woman” she met on Facebook, who prosecutors allege was actually a Hemet man facing human trafficking and other charges, tried to recruit her to engage in prostitution at age 17.

The young woman was the first witness to take the stand in the trial of Eliberto Cruz Jacobo, who’s accused of posing as a woman on Facebook and soliciting women and teenage girls to engage in sex acts for money.

She and another then-Shadow Hills High School student went to authorities, triggering the investigation that led to Jacobo’s arrest and, ultimately, the 61 felony counts filed against the 46-year-old defendant.

“Jane Doe” testified that starting in late 2013, “Marlissa Garcia” told her that she could make around $150 to “take care” of men. “Marlissa” told the then-teen that she was a prostitute herself and suggested working as an escort as a good way to make “easy money,” according to the witness.

The charges against Jacobo — human trafficking of a minor, inducing or persuading a minor to engage in a commercial sex act, statutory rape and possession of child pornography — involve seven minors allegedly victimized between late 2013 and early 2015. But prosecutors allege there are nearly 70 potential victims in total.

“There was no miscommunication between `Marlissa Garcia’ and the girls in regards to what they would be doing to make money,” Deputy District Attorney Samantha Paixao said in her opening statement. “(Jacobo) actively tried to recruit young minors to engage in prostitution.”

Jacobo’s attorneys reserved their opening statement for later on in the trial.

Paixao alleged that Jacobo posed as “Marlissa Garcia” while recommending prostitution to numerous women and teenage girls ranging in age from 14 to 31, and would continue to recommend that the victims pursue prostitution, even if they said they were minors.

Doe said she told “Marlissa” that she was 17, to which “Marlissa” said to keep the job offer a secret.

Doe never met with Jacobo, but prosecutors allege some of the victims did end up engaging in prostitution with a client known as “Robert,” later identified as Jacobo.

Sheriff’s deputies tracked the messages from “Marlissa Garcia” to an IP address at the defendant’s home, where deputies found photos and videos on his computer of minors allegedly engaged in sex acts with Jacobo, according to the prosecutor’s trial brief. Some of the juveniles also pointed “Robert” out to detectives when shown a photographic lineup of suspects, according to the prosecution.

According to the trial brief, “Marlissa Garcia” was first brought to the attention of law enforcement in November 2014 by Doe and another student at Indio’s Shadow Hills High following a school presentation on human trafficking.

The girls told deputies that “Marlissa Garcia” had worked to recruit them on Facebook for prostitution.

Jacobo was taken into custody in early 2015 and is being held at the Riverside County jail in Indio in lieu of $2 million bail.

— City News Service

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