Laguna Beach police arrested the manager of a local rug store for the second time in three weeks on Wednesday, Sept. 14, for suspicion of four additional sex crimes as a result of more victims coming forward due to news accounts.
Last week, the district attorney’s office charged Saeid Boustanaba Maralan, manager of Sirous & Sons Rug Gallery and a registered sex offender, for suspicion of four felony sex offenses, two of which took place in 2010. Four new cases, including an additional felony rape allegation, as well as three misdemeanors, were to be presented to the district attorney, Laguna Beach police Lt. Jason Kravetz said Thursday.
Police served a search warrant and sent a crime lab to search the store again Thursday, Kravetz said.
Most of the victims are Persian women, said a source close to the investigation, which could play a role in why victims were initially reluctant to come forward and cooperate with the investigation. All of the alleged assaults took place in the Ocean Avenue rug store, some in a room hidden by a hanging rug that obscures the vault in former Laguna Federal Savings & Loan building.
The new incidents involve a second charge of rape, penetration with a foreign object and assault with intent to commit oral copulation, said Kravetz, who said investigators were able to more quickly investigate the new allegations because witnesses were more cooperative.
Only 36% of rapes, 34% of attempted rapes and 26% of sexual assaults were reported, according to a 2002 report by the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. “Reasons for not reporting include fear of not being believed, lack of trust in the criminal justice system, shame and embarrassment, and self-blame and guilt,” said Susan B. Carbon, director of Office on Violence Against Women, testifying Sept. 14, 2010, before a U.S. Senate judiciary subcommittee about the chronic failure to report and investigate rape cases. “Historically, victims who know their perpetrators have been less likely to report an assault than victims who are assaulted by strangers, “ she said.
Kravetz said the new incidents date back as far as 2007. The most serious new charge alleges Maralan raped a female customer, who came into the store to consign her rugs for sale. “He lured her into a back room and sexually assaulted her,” Kravetz said. Another that occurred sometime in 2009 involved a hairstylist Maralan allegedly held against her will in the locked store after he dismissed other employees. She was hired by Maralan to come to the store to cut his hair. “He did or said something which caused her concern and she said it was over and wanted to leave,” said Kravetz, who said the woman convinced Maralan to let her out.
After being re-arrested, Maralan’s bail was set at $2 million. He was released from county jail after posting $1 million bond last weekend, said police. Maralan holds a passport from Iran and is considered a flight risk, Kravetz said.
Maralan was arrested in San Clemente. Sirous & Sons has a second shop in San Clemente.
Santa Ana defense attorney Glenn Osajima said Monday that he had learned of the new allegations and expects this week to obtain evidence collected by investigators pertaining to the first four initial charges.
Osajima said Maralan, 33, of Laguna Niguel, was convicted of a misdemeanor sex offense “some time ago.” The district attorney’s office said he was required to register as a sex offender beginning in 2002.
Earlier this week, employees in the Ocean Avenue shop declined to answer questions about the store’s ownership, which police and the district attorney’s office initially both attributed to Maralan. In previous interviews with the Indy, he has self-described his surname as Ghasermian. The district attorney’s office and Maralan’s attorney both issued a statement last week that described Maralan as a manager rather than an owner.
Santa Ana attorney Ronald W. Chrislip, who represented store owner Sirous P. A. Ghasermian in a $14 million flood-damage claim rejected by the city in June, refused comment. He said his client could not be immediately reached and was likely in Iran.
A court arraignment for Maralan was set for Oct. 7 involving the initial four felony charges of forcible rape, attempted forcible rape, sexual penetration by a foreign object and distributing pornography to a minor. If convicted, Maralan faces a penalty of 34 years to life in state prison; he already faces a sentencing enhancement allegation for committing a sexual offense against more than one victim.