INDIO (CNS) – A man and woman were sentenced to lengthy prison terms
today for molesting an 18-month-old relative of the man 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
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
“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
DeSalva took a similar stance, reminding jurors that the prosecution
must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that her client committed the alleged
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
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.
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