Moreno Valley school board member Mike Rios broke into sobs today as he testified in his own defense against charges of running a sex-for-money operation, saying he tried to start a stripper service but it fizzled out after about a month and half.
Deputy Public Defender Michael Micallef elicited testimony about why Rios lied to investigators about a car wreck in which two women were in his car.
Rios, who has pleaded not guilty, said his wife was in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at the time, and he had not told her about cheating on her.
“I thought it would get out,” Rios said, choking up.
Micallef paused, asked his client if he needed a moment and suggested he take a drink of water.
When questioning resumed, he asked why Rios sent a text message to a woman named Haley, saying that she wrecked his car.
Rios paused, and Micallef asked if he was all right.
“No,” the defendant said, “because I did things against my wife and I regret it so much.”
The prosecution wrapped up its case Tuesday.
Rios, perhaps the final witness in the case, is expected back on the stand this afternoon for cross examination.
The 42-year-old, who is free on $500,000 bail and remains a school board member, faces more than 15 years behind bars if convicted of 35 felony counts, including forcible rape, pimping, pandering and insurance fraud, stemming from alleged criminal activity in 2011 and 2012.
During testimony this morning before Riverside Superior Court Judge Gary Tranbarger, Rios explained how he had an arrangement with a stripper named Valery, who lived in his home and had the use of his cars in exchange for helping pay the bills, and how he had posted ads to find other women who wanted the same deal.
Rios said he would drive the women to and from appointments, whether “in-call” or “out-call,” in part because he wasn’t making enough money to hire a security guard.
“I was new to this,” he said.
Rios said he had a hard time managing the women, and the stripper business “fizzled out” after about a month and a half, from from mid-November through December.
He denied having sex with another woman, who testified that she worked as a prostitute for Rios for about two months at the end of 2011 but quit when he sexually assaulted her in his bedroom.
Evidence that led to the sex-related charges was found during an investigation that started with a Feb. 16, 2012, shooting outside Rios’ two- story home in the 27500 block of Palm Shadows Drive.
He is charged separately with attempting to shoot two men over a dispute that started at a Moreno Valley bar.
Rios testified about two car wrecks — one in which he said Haley backed his Mercedes-Benz into a post at a Walmart, and another in which he crashed his Volkswagen Jetta, while Haley and a female friend were in the car.
He denied filing an insurance claim regarding the accident in the Volkswagen, saying he tired of the paperwork required.
“An Allstate employee wanted me to go through all these hoops. I just got tired,” he said.
Rios testified that he met Haley when he responded to an escort ad.
He said he’d “had a couple to drink, wasn’t thinking straight … I needed someone to talk to,” but claimed they only talked and did not have sex that night.
The sex-for-money charges were filed in April.
Valery, 20, testified earlier that Rios “basically wanted to gather together some girls and sell them.”
She said Rios flashed his business card to impress her and others, telling her that he needed to increase his cashflow to build up a campaign war chest — and the call girl service was the fastest means to accomplish that goal.
“He said he needed to raise money because he wanted to be something bigger in the district,” Valery said. “He told me what I could do for men.”
Valery testified earlier that she worked as a prostitute briefly, receiving half of whatever she earned and giving the rest to Rios.
Rios was elected to the Moreno Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees in November 2010.
According to the school board bylaws, Rios will automatically lose his position if he is unable to perform his duties for three consecutive months or is convicted of a felony.