A “sexually violent predator” convicted of numerous sex crimes against multiple children across three states has been ordered to live in Twentynine Palms, despite having no ties to the area, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said Thursday.
Lawtis Donald Rhoden’s crimes occurred in Los Angeles and Orange counties, Florida and Tennessee, according to a sheriff’s news release. They date back more than 50 years.
Rhoden, now 71, was first convicted in the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl in Cocoa Beach, Florida. He lured the teenager back to his apartment, where officials say he raped her three different times, authorities said.
He was found guilty of a felony county of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14 after reaching a plea agreement, and was sentenced to 14 months in a state mental hospital and 12 years in prison.
“Rhoden was treated in the state mental hospital for his inability to control his sexual drive for young girls and, although he had the opportunity to do so, he did not attempt to obtain assistance for himself following his release,” the sheriff’s release stated.
He was eventually released from prison and paroled.
Rhoden ended up in Southern California while on parole and, between April and June 1984, he sexually assaulted three girls, two who were 14 and one who was 17, authorities said. The crimes occurred in L.A. and Orange counties.
He was convicted in those three cases of rape by force, forceful sexual penetration, sexual battery, and forcible rape.
In December 1984, while the California crimes were still under investigation, Rhoden raped a 13-year-old in Tennessee, according to the release. He was ultimately convicted of rape and using a minor for obscene purposes in that case.
Authorities say that, in every case, Rhoden identified himself as a photographer and lured the girls in by offering them modeling photoshoots. In Southern California, he approached the teens while they were on foot and tried to entice them to get into his car.
He received state prison terms of 20, 12 and 6 years respectively by courts in Tennessee, Orange County and L.A. County.
On top of the sex assaults, Rhoden bilked victims in California, Florida and Texas out of $440,000 from March 1983 until he was arrested in Tennessee, according to the release.
“The major scheme involved inserting personal ads in newspapers, creating a relationship with women answering the ads, holding himself out as an investment broker or lawyer, and convincing the women as well as their friends to provide him with large sums of money to invest,” the Sheriff’s Department explained.
Rhoden got out of prison in 2004. He was then detained in an Orange County jail after the county District Attorney’s Office filed an SVP petition.
An Orange County jury later determined him to be a “sexually violent predator” and Rhoden was committed to the California Department of State Hospitals, according to the release.
About 15 years later, the Orange County Superior Court ordered his conditional release. Then, last month, the court found “extraordinary circumstances” existed to authorize his relocation outside the county.
He was tentatively ordered by a court on March 12 to live in Twentynine Palms — something objected to by San Bernardino County DA Jason Anderson, Sheriff John McMahon and other local officials.
The San Bernardino County DA’s Office will have its SVP unit go before the Orange County court to oppose Rhoden’s release into Twentynine Palms, authorities said.
Starting Friday, sheriff’s deputies will go door to door to notify residents in the immediate vicinity of the proposed housing site.
A town hall meeting will also be scheduled at some point. The Sheriff’s Department did not immediate specify a date, however, saying only that more information would be available soon.