Moreno Valley school board member Mike Rios broke into sobs Wednesday 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 December 2011 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 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.
The prosecution wrapped up its case Tuesday, and Rios was the final witness. The four-woman, nine-man jury was expected to start deliberating Thursday.
Under cross-examination this afternoon by Deputy District Attorney Michael Brusselback in Judge Gary Tranbarger's courtroom, Rios admitted lying to sheriff's investigator Jeff Chebahtah and to Allstate employees regarding the wreck.
"I already told you 1,000 times I was dishonest," Rios said.
He said he lied about going to see doctors because of injuries suffered in the wreck, but took exception to Brusselback's use of the phrase "fraudulent statement" in his questioning. Rios said he never followed through with the insurance claim and therefore did not try to defraud Allstate.
Rios said that when he was being questioned by Chebahtah in April 2012, the investigator never told him he was being charged with insurance fraud.
"So it's the investigator's fault?" Brusselback asked.
Rios replied that he "felt (Chebahtah) was trying get to me to say I was with two young women."
Without prompting, Rios said Chebahtah went to an ICE detention center the day he was released from jail and told the defendant's wife that he had been cheating on her as part of an effort to get her to testify against him.
Brusselback got Rios to admit he was familiar with the stripping business as far back as 2005, because Rios' wife worked at Alameda Strip in Los Angeles and posted online ads for stripping at the time. Rios denied any knowledge of his wife working as a prostitute.
"I'm not aware of any ads for sex online" he told Brusselback. "I started (the stripping business) in 2011 and it only lasted a month,'' he said, adding that "you're trying to twist things around."
Earlier, Rios testified about his arrangement with a stripper named Valery, who lived in his home and had 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 earlier this week 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 on computers and telephones 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 white Mercedes-Benz into a post at a Walmart, and another in which he crashed his black 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.