News Column

Teen suspected in credit card fraud, family accused of pimping lived in same Cotati house

July 24, 2014

By Paul Payne, The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.



July 25--Lives converged this spring for defendants in two separate Sonoma County criminal cases.

During a preliminary hearing for Cotati family members accused of pimping a 16-year-old girl, the victim testified that Mohannad Halaweh, 19, who is accused of renting a $240,000 sports car with stolen credit card information and defrauding Safeway stores out of thousands of dollars, lived at the same Charles Street house.

She said Halaweh rented a room while she was kept as a "slave" at the house from April 8 to June 10. She was forced to clean up after Halaweh, but he was otherwise not involved in forcing her into the sex trade, she said.

It was unclear whether fake credit cards the teen said were used to rent rooms for prostitution at a Beverly Hills hotel came from Halaweh.

The girl said she moved out six days after Halaweh was arrested in Santa Rosa on June 4 at the wheel of the bright orange McLaren.

In addition to charges connected to the luxury sports car, Halaweh is accused of using stolen credit cards to rent high-end vacation homes and with using fake credit cards to steal about $150,000 from Safeway stores along the North Coast. He is expected to enter pleas July 11.

Meanwhile, a judge ruled Thursday there was enough evidence to try his former housemates, Abdelaziz Thomas, 38, and Thomas' grandchild's mother, April Dominique-Nysha Thomas, 19, on charges of pimping and providing drugs to the teen, identified in court only as Jane Doe. Abdelaziz Thomas' son, Arthur Thomas, 20, was cleared of all charges.

Judge Shelly Averill also found there was evidence Abdelaziz Thomas had sex with the minor, committed forced sodomy on her, made threats against her and inflicted corporal injury on her.

However, Averill tossed out the most serious charge against the two -- human trafficking, which by itself carries a 15-year sentence. The judge said evidence suggests the teen was working as a prostitute before she moved in with the Thomases and they did not introduce her to the business.

The judge rejected allegations Arthur Thomas was the "muscle" behind the prostitution. He remained in custody on an unrelated case.

Outside court, prosecutor Bill Brockley said investigators were continuing to look into Halaweh's relationship with the Thomases.

The girl testified the family pimped her in hotel rooms across the Bay Area and drove her to locations as far away as Medford, Ore., and Los Angeles. On at least one occasion, bogus credit cards were used, according to testimony.

If convicted, Abdelaziz Thomas faces up to 15 years in prison and April Thomas could be sentenced to a maximum of 11 years, Brockley said.

The chief deputy prosecutor sought sanctions against Abdelaziz Thomas's lawyer, Steve Turer, at the end of the two-day hearing.

Brockley argued Turer posed inappropriate questions to the teenager about her history of prostitution. And at one point in the proceedings, Brockley said Turer blurted out a profanity.

The judge declined to penalize Turer for his questioning, finding it was needed to form an opinion about the human trafficking allegation. And she let him off with a warning about the profanity, in part because she said she did not hear it.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@press democrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

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(c)2014 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)

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Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)


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