Laguna Beach Rug Merchant Arrested for Sexual Assaults

via LA Times

Saeid Boustanabadi Maralan, 53, a Laguna Beach resident and store manager at Sirous & Sons Rug Gallery, has been arrested for sexually assaulting at least seven women in the last four years, and authorities are afraid more victims will come forward after news of the arrest spreads. But residents of Laguna Beach are upset at the length of time it took to investigate and arrest Maralon because during the investigation, two more women reported assaults.

Neighbors said they were shocked to learn that Maralan was a registered sex offender with several sexual assault convictions in Los Angeles County. They question why police didn’t inform them of his history after the first allegations surfaced.

“Everybody that has come in has been so angry that it took so long to arrest him,” said Agnes Dougherty, a bookkeeper at the Marine Room Tavern, which shares a wall with Sirous & Sons.

The case has become the talk of downtown Laguna Beach, a few blocks of restaurants, art galleries and boutiques that is just ending its busy summer arts festival and tourist season. It’s a close-knit area where residents and merchants feel they know one another.

“It’s sad that something like this would happen in our little town,” said Helga Sommer, who works across the street at an Italian ceramics shop.

Faced with the criticism, Laguna Beach police said they did all they could to arrest Maralan as quickly as possible. They described it as a frustrating, slow-moving investigation hampered by uncooperative witnesses. They said they even tried, without success, sending two undercover female officers into the store posing as customers.

“It was a tough case,” said Lt. Jason Kravetz. LA Times, 21 Sep 2011.

Investigators tried multiple sting operations. Despited multiple complains of sexual assault and attempted rape, investigators claim they did not have enough proof to arrest Maralan until he showed pornography to a minor working in the shop as an intern.

The list of previous convictions and complaints is astounding, and it is easy to understand why residents find it difficult to believe there was no proof that warranted arrest.

Laguna Beach detectives were aware of Maralan’s history as a sex offender. In 1999 he was convicted of indecent exposure and sexual battery on one woman and battery on another woman in L.A. County. He initially was sentenced to 120 days in jail but, because of probation violations, he subsequently received a one-year sentence, according to Los Angeles County prosecutors.

In 2003, Maralan was found guilty by a jury in Bellflower of sexual battery on two other women and sentenced to six months in jail and three years’ probation.

Nonetheless, Laguna Beach detectives said they did not have sufficient evidence to move forward.

That changed this summer, when a 17-year-old store intern reported to the department that Maralan showed her pornography on a store computer and asked her sexual questions. Within days, detectives served search warrants at the store and found computer evidence of the pornography.

“He knew we were looking at him after that,” Kravetz said.

Police said that Maralan struck again after the search warrant was served. This time, he caressed a 25-year-old woman seeking a job on Aug. 13 and offered her $500 for sex, police said. She fled, she told police, after he tried to reach between her legs. LA Times, 21 Sep 2011

Maralan has pleaded not guilty.