A 28-year-old Mesa man who was arrested last year in connection with taking an 11-year-old girl to Kansas has been arrested again, this time on suspicion of having a sexual relationship with the girl, Mesa police officials said.
On Thursday, when police found the 28-year-old Lopez with the girl without her parents’ permission again, they were in a Mesa motel room.
This time, Lopez was arrested on suspicion of three counts of sexual conduct with a minor. He is being held in Maricopa County’s Madison Street Jail in Phoenix without bail.
Mesa detective Tim Gaffney said police weren't investigating Lopez when they knocked on a motel room door in the 500 block of South Country Club Drive while looking into a stolen car report Thursday morning.
The officers chased Lopez when they saw him jump out the motel room’s window and run. They caught up with him and questioned him.
The officers also began to question a 12-year-old girl in Lopez's room.
Gaffney said the officers realized Lopez had been arrested in September for taking the same girl out of Arizona without her parents' permission.
Under further questioning Thursday, the girl and Lopez confessed that they were involved in a sexual relationship, court records indicate. The girl said they began having sex in August, one month before their trip to Kansas. Lopez told officers their first sexual encounter was four months ago. They also told detectives that they met in Mexico when the girl was 8 years old and Lopez saw her walking to school, Gaffney said.
"When she was in the second grade, he essentially hits on her," said Lt. Doug Kline. "That gives you a clue as to what his preferences are. He has all of the earmarks of a pedophile because of the age of the child."
Police investigator Margarita Quihuiz said it is unclear when Lopez or the girl moved to Mesa, but detectives know that the girl wrote Lopez letters after she moved. In recent weeks, the girl would meet with Lopez while both her parents were at work.
"They continued to hide it from her parents and there's only so much parents can do when they have to work and support a family," Quihuiz said.
The parents routinely reported the girl as a runaway, Kline said.
"Maybe now that the suspect has been taken out of the equation, the family can re-establish a relationship with her and keep her home," Kline said.
Bill FitzGerald, a spokesman with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, said last year's case is still under review to determine if formal charges should be filed.
Gaffney said detectives did not pursue additional charges last year because the girl denied having sex with Lopez.
"There was no evidence then that any other crime had been committed," Gaffney said. "There were no admissions by either the 11-year-old or the suspect that there had been any type of sexual contact between the two."