By Greg Risling, Associated Press
FONTANA, CA – Prosecutors filed attempted child molestation charges Tuesday against a man who allegedly sought sex from two fictional 15-year-old girls created by Internet pranksters.
Michael Ramos, 48, was charged with one felony count of attempting to commit a lewd act on a 15-year-old and two misdemeanor counts of attempted child molestation, said Karen Martinez, a San Bernardino County deputy district attorney.
Ramos, who remained jailed in lieu of $250,000 bail, could face up to two years in prison if convicted of all counts and would have to register for life as a sex offender, Martinez said.
"The child is fictional" but the crime is real, she said, noting that similar charges have been filed against suspects when police pose online as children to catch pedophiles.
To face charges, a person must "take a step toward completing that crime … such as appearing in the place that was arranged upon," she said. "It’s not just talking about it, thinking about it, wishing about it."
Ramos was arrested Sunday at a park after he allegedly arranged a tryst through a Web site, police Sgt. William Megenney said.
But "Jessica" – the teen he thought he was meeting – was actually created by five boys as a prank to cheer up a buddy who had just broken up with his girlfriend, Megenney said.
The youngsters, ages 14 to 16, created a phony profile of a high school sophomore on MySpace.com, one of several social sites popular with teenagers 14 and over and young adults, police said.
A MySpace.com spokeswoman wouldn’t comment on specific investigations but said the Web site works with law enforcement agencies and fully supports the arrests of individuals found guilty of criminal offenses on the Internet.
The boys did not immediately respond to a request made through police for an interview.
The boys sent e-mails to their buddy claiming to be "Jessica." Within days, they received communications from Ramos responding to a profile of the girl they placed online, Megenney said.
"They start messing with him. He replies to the e-mails" and sent the girl his photograph electronically, Megenney said. "The e-mails get progressively more and more sexual in nature."
Prosecutors allege that Ramos sent messages from February through March 2 to "Jessica." The boys then created "Stacy," with whom Ramos allegedly conversed from March 2 to March 5, Martinez said.
She declined to provide further details.
Megenney also declined to provide more details but said the pranksters eventually arranged to have Ramos meet one of the fictitious girls in a park in an upscale area of town.
"They never expected this guy to show up," but he drove up and they recognized him from his photograph and called police, Megenney said.
"They were extremely lucky that things turned out the way they did," Megenney said. "Who knows what this guy would have done if he would have found out, ‘hey, I’ve just been lured in by five teenage kids."’