A Fresno woman who police say was advertising prostitution services online was arrested after officers found her at a central Merced motel in the city’s so-called red-light district.
Rebecca Jean Fusselman, 32, of Fresno, admitted to engaging in prostitution at the Siesta Motel in the 1300 block of West 16th Street, the police department reported.
Police said Fusselman led them to a room at the motel where they found a man they described as her “supervisor,” Lavar Desean Lockhart, a convicted felon who was found to have a loaded handgun.
Fusselman and Lockhart, 38, also of Fresno, were arrested.
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Fusselman was booked into the Merced County jail and released, according to jail records.
Lockhart, who was arrested on suspicion of supervising in prostitution and being a felon in possession of a firearm, remained in custody Wednesday at the John Latorraca Correctional Facility with bond set at more than $150,000 bail, according to booking records.
Investigators seized a loaded .45-caliber handgun that was inside the room, officers said.
The arrests were made by the Police Department’s Disruptive Area Response Team.
Officers said they spotted Fusselman around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday outside the motel and recognized her from internet posts.
“Fusselman admitted to posting ads online advertising prostitution services,” police said in the statement.
The Merced County District Attorney’s Office in 2014 filed a nuisance abatement action against the owners of the Siesta Motel, calling it a “hub of prostitution, assaults, robberies and narcotics.” Prosecutors at the time cited three prostitution stings conducted by Merced police that netted nearly two dozen arrests over two years.
Deputy District Attorney Walter Wall told the Merced Sun-Star that prosecutors were close to reaching a settlement with motel owner Bhavin Mehta, but said that agreement is in danger of falling apart.
“At the next court hearing, we expect to ask the judge to proceed to trial,” Wall said. “The abatement action could include completely shutting down the motel entirely. We don’t want to be in that position, but we may not have another choice.”
Under the deal, Mehta is supposed to install internet-linked security cameras to enable Merced police to monitor the area in real time. “But the owner has dragged his feet,” Wall said.
Mehta’s attorney, David Thelen, said cameras have been installed. He declined to say whether they were connected to the internet or monitored by Merced police.
Thelen said he expected the agreement would go forward. “I don’t anticipate any breakdown,” he said.
A settlement conference is set for Aug. 18 in Merced Superior Court.
A man who answered the telephone Wednesday morning at the Siesta Motel identified himself as the manager, but did not give his name. He said the owner of the motel was not available.
“I rent the rooms. What they do in there, I don’t know. They have drugs, they have a gun, I don’t know anything about that,” he said. “They go into the room, I don’t know what they do. I don’t check. I don’t go in there. That’s not my problem.
“This is a problem everywhere – not just Siesta, not just Merced, but everywhere,” he continued and then hung up the telephone.
Sgt. Alan Ward said progress was made cleaning up the area, but acknowledged motel owners have trouble keeping track of activities happening behind closed doors.
“It got better for awhile, but we’re still having problems in that area with Siesta being one of the worst in terms of calls, there’s no doubt,” Ward said.
Ward said prostitution typically is arranged online or by telephone, making it more difficult for motel owners to know what’s happening inside the rooms they rent.
“It’s happening still primarily in that 16th Street section, but not just in that one motel,” Ward said. “It just happened that, in this case, the suspect was seen loitering outside for purposes of prostitution.”
Merced Police are asking anyone with any information regarding this crime to contact the DART unit at 209-385-8840 or the Merced Police Department Tipster Line at 209-385-4725. The public can send information via anonymous text messages by dialing 847411 and including the word “Comvip” as the “keyword” in the text message.
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482