Charges were filed Thursday against a Bell Gardens man who allegedly kidnapped a 15-year-old girl in 2004, raped her and held her against her will for nearly a decade, officials said.
Isidro Medrano Garcia, 42, was charged with one felony count of forcible rape, three felony counts of lewd acts on a minor, and one felony count of kidnapping to commit a sexual offense, according to a statement released by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
If convicted on all counts, Garcia faces a maximum of 19 years to life in state prison. He was arrested Monday, the Santa Ana Police Department announced Wednesday.
He appeared briefly in court in Santa Ana Thursday but did not enter a plea. Garcia’s attorney said after the hearing that his client denied the charges against him.
“He never prevented her from leaving,” attorney Charles Frisco Jr. said. “Why is it that she never said anything to indicate that he did something wrong? … He treated her like a queen.”
The brief court hearing came as conflicting accounts emerged about the alleged abuse, which included Garcia having forced his victim into marriage. The couple had a child together, authorities said.
Police described years of sexual assaults that began when the victim was a vulnerable teen who spoke little English. But residents who lived near the couple in Bell Gardens said the family seemed normal and content and was social with nearby residents.
Authorities said the family’s appearance to neighbors — and the victim’s behavior — should not be surprising.
“This was a victim who was kidnapped at 15 years old and convinced she had no one to turn to,” said Farrah Emami, a spokeswoman for the DA’s office. “Over the course of many, many years, maybe her freedoms did increase, but she was still mentally his captive. She was scared.”
Garcia was introduced to the victim while he was dating and living with her mother in February 2004, according to the DA’s office. Four months later, he allegedly began grooming the girl by buying her gifts and taking her side when she and her mother argued.
The alleged victim, who is now 25 and has not been publicly identified, is referred to as “Jane Doe” in the statement.
Garcia is accused of touching her buttocks and kissing her on the mouth between June and August 2004, as well as sexually assaulting her on three separate occasions and forcibly raping her at least once in the home where they lived with her mother.
“In August 2004, a mutual domestic violence incident between Jane Doe’s mother and Garcia was reported to the Santa Ana Police Department, but a case could not be proven at that time,” the statement said.
Shortly afterward, according to prosecutors, Garcia kidnapped the teenager, took her to a house in Compton and held her against her will. The following day, he allegedly gave her paperwork with a false identity.
He told the girl, an immigrant from Mexico, that “her mother wasn’t looking for her, the police weren’t looking for her because she was here illegally,” said Cpl. Anthony Bertagna of the Santa Ana Police Department.
“We do know that on two separate occasions she tried to escape, he caught her, and she was beaten for her efforts,” Bertagna said.
Garcia is accused of controlling the alleged victim between August 2004 and April 2014 by telling her that her family did not want her. He told her that if she called the police to report him, she would get in trouble for using a false identity, the DA’s office stated.
Garcia secured a job for the woman with the nighttime janitorial service where he worked, so that he “could keep a close eye on the victim,” according to Santa Ana police.
He forced her to marry him in 2007 and she gave birth to his child, who is now 3, in 2010, the DA’s office stated. Police had earlier said the child was born in 2012.
She contacted her sister on Facebook in April, then soon met with her sister and mother in person, Emami said.
“Her mom did do a story with a Hispanic TV news station and one with a [newspaper]” after the victim had gone missing, Bertagna said. “We know this because the mother has those items. My understanding is, when the daughter did finally connect with the mother, she showed her that she was in fact looking for her.”
The alleged victim later went to the Bell Gardens Police Department with a complaint about domestic violence, and then revealed to police who she really was, Emami said.
After confirming that she had been missing from Santa Ana since 2004, Bell Gardens police contacted the Santa Ana Police Department on Sunday.
Garcia’s arrest was announced three days later.
Although Garcia appeared briefly in court on Thursday, he did not enter a plea because he was still in the process of retaining Frisco to represent him.
Frisco said the alleged victim was “trumping up” charges against his client and had “certain motives” for coming forward.
“Every couple going through a divorce may say things, and oftentimes say things that simply aren’t true — because they want to get the goat of the other spouse,” Frisco said after the hearing. “It appears that’s probably what happened in this case.”
The couple had been splitting up, and the alleged victim had been moving out, Frisco said.
Garcia remained held in lieu of $1 million bail, and federal immigration officials had a hold on his release, authorities said. His arraignment was scheduled for June 9.
Orange County prosecutors were in touch with the DA’s office in neighboring Los Angeles County about charges that could be filed there, Emami said. The alleged abduction took place in Orange County, but the couple lived for several years in L.A. County.