Preliminary hearings are set for three men who allegedly thought they were meeting a minor for sex this past weekend but were instead arrested in a law enforcement sting operation.
Hilo District Judge Bruce Larson on Monday refused to free on court-supervised release without cash bail 28-year-old Sonny Eugenio Puerto of Kurtistown, 36-year-old Joseph Michael Powell and 31-year-old Kanani Ikaika Perreira Yurong, both of Hilo.
The judge also denied requests by the defense to reduce bail for the men.
The three men are charged with first-degree electronic enticement of a child, and Powell also is charged with attempting to disseminate pornography to a minor.
Puerto and Perreira Yurong remained in custody in lieu of $50,000 bail. Powell’s bail is $50,100.
All three were ordered to return for preliminary hearings Wednesday.
In Puerto’s case, that hearing will be moot because prosecutors filed a felony information charge against him late Monday afternoon, which moves the case to Hilo Circuit Court. An information charge requires a judge’s approval.
Deputy Prosecutor Sylvia Wan told the judge the enticement charge, a Class B felony, carries a mandatory prison sentence upon conviction.
“There is no alternative; there is no probation,” Wan said during Puerto’s hearing. “The charge requires that the defendant be electronically communicating with a person he believed to be a minor. In this particular case … the minor was stated to be 13 years old. (He) agreed to conduct sexual acts with this minor and then go to a particular meeting place.
“The state asks that the bail be maintained, not only because of the seriousness of the offense, but because of the potential danger to the community, because this defendant went to a particular location with the intention of committing sex acts onto a minor.”
Wan made the same arguments in the cases of the other two defendants, but did not state the ages of the intended victims.
Deputy Public Defender Jonas Krave also made similar arguments in all three cases — that the men have no prior criminal records, are all either lifelong or long-term Big Island residents with stable residences and, in the cases of Puerto and Perreira Yurong, gainful employment.
A fourth man charged in the enticement sting dubbed “Operation Keiki Shield,” 45-year-old Nolan Okalani Tallett of Honolulu, posted bail and was released from police custody. A check of court records shows only a minimal criminal record for Tallett and no felony convictions.
A fifth individual, 31-year-old Marshall K. Baji of Naalehu, was arrested on suspicion of electronic enticement of a child, promoting pornography to minors and promoting minor-produced sexual images. He remained in police custody Monday afternoon as detectives continued to investigate, according to police.
County Prosecutor Kelden Waltjen said in a statement that the sting was a joint operation involving local, state and federal law enforcement.
“Protecting our keiki from sexual predators is a top priority of our office,” Waltjen said, adding that he’s “committed to seeking justice for these egregious offenses to the fullest extent of the law.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.