A United Arab Emirates diplomat living in Fairfax County has left the United States to avoid prosecution on charges of soliciting sex from a 13-year-old girl over the Internet, officials said yesterday.
Bedford County law enforcement officials said a sheriff's deputy trained to identify predators posed as a child on the Internet. Throughout February, Salem Al-Mazrooei, 40, chatted online with the deputy, and on Feb. 23 he was lured to Bedford, about four hours from his Vienna home, they said.
Salem Al-Mazrooei, 40, was arrested after a sting to identify predators.
(Wsls News 10 Roanoake)
As investigators closed in on him near a Bedford shopping mall, where he had arranged to meet the girl he thought was a seventh-grader, Al-Mazrooei tried to flee in his sport-utility vehicle, which had diplomatic plates, said Commonwealth's Attorney Randy C. Krantz. Inside the vehicle, they found a computer printout of a map with directions to the meeting site, Krantz said. Al-Mazrooei requested diplomatic immunity.
A call to the U.S. State Department that day by Bedford officials confirmed his identity, and he was released from police custody, Krantz said. It was a blow for the Bedford County Sheriff's Office, which actively prowls the Internet for predators under a federally funded program dubbed Operation Blue Ridge Thunder.
Bedford law enforcement officials received what appeared to be the case's death knell this week, when State Department officials called to report that the diplomat had been terminated from his job as director of the embassy's scholarship program. He then left the country with his family last weekend, the State Department confirmed. Calls to the embassy were not returned yesterday.
State Department spokesman Lou Fintor said his agency will assist Bedford officials in entering Al-Mazrooei's name into national and international immigration databases, marking him as a wanted man.
He will not be allowed to enter the country again unless it is to face charges in Virginia, Fintor said. He was charged in warrants with five counts of solicitation of a minor and one count of attempted indecent liberties. He would face up to 10 years in prison on each solicitation charge and a maximum of five on the indecent liberties charge.
It is doubtful that the diplomat will return, Krantz said.
"What I hope is because of the gravity of this situation that the UAE chose to remove him so that they could prosecute him," Krantz said. "I have to believe that any civilized government . . . will have to abhor this form of conduct."
Krantz's quest to prosecute the diplomat began shortly after the suspect's release last week. He petitioned the State Department to intercede on Virginia's behalf to present the case to the UAE ambassador. Ultimately, it was up to the UAE to make the decision on waiving his immunity.
Krantz said that based on the evidence gathered against the diplomat, it was his hope that the UAE would waive immunity and allow prosecution. It would appear, however, that during the time he hoped embassy officials were reviewing the case, they were working to have Al-Mazrooei removed from the country, the prosecutor said.
"This is the case that cried out for the waiver," he said. "Without question, this diplomat thought he was talking to a 13-year-old girl."
Krantz said the diplomat went to a Web site created for children and immediately began peppering the sheriff's task force decoy with sexually explicit comments and propositions under the screen name "tobannaco."
"I wouldn't even repeat those words," Krantz said. "They were very, very graphic requests by the adult . . . to have very, very graphic sex."
He never told the girl his age, Krantz said.
"He was silent on that issue except . . . saying he would teach her adult things," Krantz said.
When the undercover deputy e-mailed the diplomat with news that a 16-year-girlfriend had offered to drive her to the mall, Al-Mazrooei said to invite the friend to join them, Krantz said.
He also offered to give the child a ride back to school after their encounter. "We clearly had someone who had the premeditation to commit the act," Krantz said.