After a personal ad posted Sept. 6 in Craigslist's Orange County "Casual Encounters" section offered to pay high school girls $60 for intercourse and $40 for head, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children alerted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations. The resulting probe eventually led to Leo James Zabala Jr. pleading not guilty in the U.S. District Court in Santa Ana Monday to federal counts of using interstate commerce to attempt to induce a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity. The Whittier 25-year-old could spend 10 years in the pen with a conviction.
According to a federal grand jury indictment handed down in October, the ad was answered online by someone named "surfrgirlhb," who told Zabala she was 14. Actually, she was a federal agent posing as a teen. The case is similar to another recently involving a Craigslist personal and a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:
- Shaw Bruce Warrington Accused of Meeting with "13-Year-Old" After Posting Craigslist Ads Seeking Moms and Daughters for Sex
In the latest sting, a rendezvous was set up for Oct. 14 at the Sea Cliffs Village Shopping Center in Huntington Beach. Zabala showed up with two vibrators, batteries, tangerine-flavored lubricating lotion, and a receipt revealing he had bought the items two hours earlier, according to the indictment.
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He was arrested after telling federal agents he'd come to meet "Lisa Richards," the name the undercover had used in their later communications, but Zabala denied knowing her age and claimed to be chickening out on having sex with her. While being interrogated later, he denied placing the Craigslist personal.
But, according to the indictment, the same poster of the September ad had previously placed another one on June 30, 2009, titled "?????Any high school girls looking to make extra cash$?" It stated, "im looking for a high school girl for sex. I will pay you cash $ for it If your interested e-mail be the following: Pics (these are a must) Location Availability Age Price (how much?)."
Zabala is out of custody after posting $50,000 bail, but he is being monitored electronically and is forbidden from getting near a computer pending his trial, according to the authorities.
The federal government does not always release booking photos of those who have been indicted, but they are with Zabala's in case there are other victims. If you believe that is you or have information that can help investigators, call 1-866-DHS-2ICE or visit ICE.gov.