One Year Ago Today (November 9, 2021)…Opening statements are expected in the trial of a man and woman accused of molesting the man’s 18-month-old son in Desert Hot Springs and filming their actions.
Michael James Flaherty, 35, of Desert Hot Springs, and Cynthia Fuentes, 25, of Coachella, were arrested in August 2017.
Flaherty and Fuentes are each charged with three counts of committing lewd acts on a child under 14 years old using force, two counts of committing sex acts on a child under 10 years old and one count of using a minor for obscene matter.
During trial proceedings on Oct. 21, Flaherty pleaded guilty to a number of charges related to the lewd acts that he alone was charged with, including two felony counts of persuading a child lewd act and one felony count each of possessing matter of a minor engaging in a sex act, willful child cruelty and aiding a felon in escaping arrest.
He has also pleaded guilty to the felony charge of using a minor for obscene matter.
He will be sentenced on those charges after his trial on the remaining counts.
During a preliminary hearing in January, Desert Hot Springs Police Det. Christopher Tooth said a woman whom Flaherty met on a dating app initially reported the abuse to Child Protective Services, then to police.
The woman said Flaherty sought to convince her to assist him in molesting his son, and provided photographs and videos purporting to show several acts of molestation during several of their conversations.
The investigation eventually expanded to include Fuentes, who allegedly admitted in text messages to participating in the abuse.
According to Deputy District Attorney Anne-Marie Lofthouse, both Flaherty and Fuentes were captured on camera engaging in sex acts on the child.
At the time of his arrest, Flaherty was also the subject of a child pornography investigation initiated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which forwarded the case to investigators with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, according to Lofthouse. Federal investigators eventually teamed with Desert Hot Springs police in the case.
Flaherty has prior felony convictions for burglary and vehicle theft. He also has an unresolved felony forcible rape case.
Fuentes has no documented felony convictions in Riverside County.
Both defendants remain behind bars, each on $1.5 million bail.