A man and woman were sentenced to lengthy prison terms today for molesting an 18-month-old boy in Desert Hot Springs and filming their actions.
Michael James Flaherty, 36, and Cynthia Fuentes, 26, were convicted in December 2021 of 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.
In 2021, Flaherty pleaded guilty to a number of additional charges related to lewd acts that he alone was charged with, including two felony counts of persuading a lewd act with a child and one felony count each of possessing matter of a minor engaging in a sex act, willful child cruelty, using a minor for obscene matter and aiding a felon in escaping arrest.
Flaherty was sentenced Thursday to 65 years and four months to life, while Fuentes was sentenced to 15 years to life, according to the District Attorney's office.
During opening statements at the Larson Justice Center in December 2021, Deputy District Attorney Anne-Marie Lofthouse separately showed two panels of jurors, one for each defendant, an image of the child while asserting the two defendants used him for sexual pleasure knowing he was defenseless.
Lofthouse said Flaherty "served (the victim) up on a silver platter" to women for gratification, and Fuentes "knew that the child could do nothing about it."
Lofthouse also said the two defendants tried to destroy evidence after they believed they were going to be reported to authorities by a woman Flaherty had contacted, proving they knew their actions were wrong.
Flaherty's attorney, Melanie Roe, and Fuentes' attorney, Jessica DeSalva, argued that prosecutors did not have sufficient evidence to prove all the charges.
"Thoughts are not crimes, no matter how deviant," Roe said, adding that although the prosecution had some video evidence, the use of text messages is insufficient because it only shows that Flaherty thought about committing a crime.
DeSalva took a similar stance, reminding jurors that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that her client committed the alleged crimes.
During a previous preliminary hearing January 2020, Desert Hot Springs Police Detective Christopher Tooth said a woman Flaherty met on a dating app initially reported the alleged abuse to Child Protective Services, then to police.
The woman said Flaherty tried to convince her to take part in molesting the boy, 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 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.