CEDAR CITY – A 53-year-old man arrested last February after allegedly trying to solicit sex with two 13-year-old girls has been found incompetent to stand trial.
James Michael Garrelts has been committed to the Utah State Hospital in Provo after the court determined he was unable to participate in his own defense due to a mental disorder. Court documents did not specify the nature of the mental disorder but stated that while he understood his charges, he did not comprehend the nature of the legal proceedings against him.
The court order did not stipulate how much time Garrelts will spend in the hospital, but it will likely be a minimum of 90 days.
“The goal is to restore him to a level of competency, so he can stand trial,” Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett said. “It will be at least 90 days, but it might take longer.”
The Cedar City resident was one of seven men arrested over the weekend of Feb. 18 in connection with an underage sex trafficking sting. He is facing two counts of criminal solicitation to commit rape of a child, both first-degree felonies.
The group Veterans for Child Rescue, a nonprofit organization dedicated to battling child sex trafficking, teamed up with local and federal law enforcement agencies in a joint undercover operation to catch the suspected child predators.
According to charging documents filed in 5th District Court, the operation used a confidential informant to place fake ads with a picture of two young girls on the now-defunct website Backpage.com. The site used for prostitution ads, including those depicting children, was shut down in April by the U.S. Justice Department.
The suspect allegedly responded to the ad offering to pay $250 to have sex with both of the girls.
On the day of the arrest, Garrelts called the CI to notify her that he was en route from Cedar City to Paragonah where he was ultimately taken into custody after making payment to the CI in exchange for a 30-minute sexual encounter with underage girls.
“In a(n) audio and video recorded interview at Parowan Police Department then (sic) suspect was advise (sic) of his Miranda rights and agreed to talk to me,” the documents state. “When asked about what happened and what he was going to do, he admitted to his intent to have sex with the two 13 year old decoys.”
Among those arrested the same day:
- Eugene Alvarado Jr., 46, of Sunnyvale, California. Alvarado was charged with two counts of solicitation to commit rape of a child and two counts of solicitation to commit child kidnapping, all first-degree felonies. In addition, he was charged with two counts of dealing in harmful materials to a minor, a third-degree felony.
- Floyd Jennings, 71, of St. George was charged with two counts of solicitation to commit rape of a child, both first-degree felonies.
- Phillip Michael Gerstner, 30, of Jerome, Idaho, and Carlos Valenzuela Nunez, 30, of Enterprise were each charged with one count of solicitation to commit rape of a child, a first-degree felony.
- Trevor John Bodily, 31, of Clearfield, was charged with solicitation to commit rape of a child, and solicitation to commit sodomy on a child, both first-degree felonies; as well as failing to stop at the command of a law enforcement officer, a class A misdemeanor.
A series of texts from Alvarado to the two 13-year-old decoys led authorities to believe the suspect intended to “kidnap the two 13-year-old girls and take them back today to California. He made statements about having them work in his bar as cocktail waitresses,” court records state. “During these conversations, the suspect asked the two females to dress up and put makeup on to see if they would pass for 18 years old.”
His texts also detailed how he could change the girls’ physical identity by cutting and coloring their hair and writing a runaway note to their families. Alvarado told the undercover agents “they could leave and not be found.”
A seventh man, Jason Everette Livermore, 30, was also arrested for two counts of criminal solicitation, a first-degree felony, and enticing a minor, a second-degree felony. Livermore, a U.S. Army recruiter in Cedar City, responded to one of the fake ads and arranged to have sex with who he thought was a 39-year-old woman and her 12-year-old daughter, the charges state.
Charges in Livermore and Alvarado’s cases have both been moved to federal court.
Nunez also appeared in court Tuesday for a pretrial status conference that was vacated to give the attorneys more time to prepare for trial.
The agencies participating in the sting include the Iron County Sheriff’s Office, Parowan police, Iron County Attorney’s Office, Iron/Garfield/Beaver Narcotics Task Force, Homeland Security Investigation and the Utah Highway Patrol.
If you have a news tip or want to tell me about an event or share a story idea email me @ email@example.com
You can also follow me at the following handles or by hitting the social media icons in the sidebar or the top left corner of the page.
Join my Facebook Group @Southern Utah News, Issues and Current Events
All content on the news site, Behind the Headlines, will always remain FREE and available but your support is the only thing that can keep us going and allow us to grow the site to be able to bring you more up-to-the-minute news reports. You can make a one-time donation to the site through Paypal or you can just support your Iron County local reporter with a cup or two of coffee at Buy Me a Coffee. Your support is always appreciated.