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Originally published Wednesday, July 3, 2013 at 8:26 PM

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Underage sex-abuse conviction may be first in state

A King County Superior Court jury deliberated for about 30 minutes Wednesday before finding a Sumner man guilty of commercial sex abuse of a minor, handing down the first verdict of its kind in the county — and possibly the state — for men who pay for sex with underage girls.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The age of consent in Washington is 16 whether you like it or not. This guy is no sex ... MORE
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A King County Superior Court jury deliberated for about 30 minutes Wednesday before finding a Sumner man guilty of commercial sex abuse of a minor, handing down the first verdict of its kind in the county — and possibly the state — for men who pay for sex with underage girls.

The jury of six men and six women convicted Gildardo Zaldivar-Guillen of a crime that became a Class B felony in June 2010, when a new state law went into effect that increased penalties for pimps and customers who profit from or pay for sex with prostituted juveniles.

While other male customers, or johns, have been charged in King County with commercial sex abuse of a minor, they ultimately pleaded guilty to lesser charges, according to court records and King County prosecutors.

Under state law, someone is guilty of commercial sex abuse of a minor if he or she pays a minor or third party — usually a pimp — for sex or “solicits, offers or requests” to engage in sexual conduct with a minor.

Zaldivar-Guillen, who turns 41 on Thursday, faces a standard sentence of 21 to 27 months in prison when he is sentenced by Judge Mary Roberts on July 26 at the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. Before the law went into effect, first-time offenders convicted of paid sex with a minor faced a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail.

The law change also requires Zaldivar-Guillen to register as a sex offender for 15 years after he is released from custody.

Roberts agreed to allow Zaldivar-Guillen to remain free on personal recognizance until he is sentenced.

The Seattle Times is not naming the young woman in the case because she is the victim of a sex crime.

In closing statements Wednesday, defense attorney Alexander Chan told jurors his client was a good Samaritan who picked up a “young girl in trouble” along Pacific Highway South in SeaTac on Aug. 3, 2012, and offered her a ride home.

The 17-year-old girl, who has since turned 18, testified Tuesday, denying she was working as a prostitute, Chan said. She came to court to “exonerate an innocent man” who had shown her compassion, he said.

Chan called the young woman a victim of “overly aggressive law enforcement officers” whose “incompetence and sloppiness” he likened to bumbling “Keystone cops.”

Saying there was no photographic evidence or tape-recorded statements of the crime, Chan said “the state hasn’t even produced a victim for you.”

King County Deputy Prosecutor Jason Simmons acknowledged the young woman unwillingly took the stand, and then claimed she didn’t remember her encounter with Zaldivar-Guillen, or contradicted her earlier statements to police.

“This man picked her up and exploited her,” Simmons said, noting that the girl requested $60 for sex, but Zaldivar-Guillen offered her $10, leaving two $5 bills on his dashboard. “This case is really that simple ... He was there to solicit the prostitution services of” the young woman.

The woman “matters ... She’s a victim and she deserves justice, even if she doesn’t look at herself as a victim,” Simmons told the jury.

Simmons said Zaldivar-Guillen was cruising Pacific Highway, saw a girl in tight clothing, pulled over and drove off after she jumped in his red pickup without conversation. Zaldivar-Guillen didn’t drive her home or to a restaurant, but to a dark parking lot outside a closed bicycle shop, switching off his headlights, Simmons said.

Detectives assigned to the King County sheriff’s Street Crimes Unit had followed the pickup after watching the girl — who they knew from previous contacts was working as a prostitute — get inside, Simmons said.

When the detectives ordered Zaldivar-Guillen out of the vehicle, he admitted he knew the woman was working as a prostitute and told the officers he had grabbed her breast to prove he wasn’t a cop, Simmons said.

“It’s natural for people involved (in a crime) not to want to admit to what they were doing, and thankfully, the jury was able to see through it,” Simmons said after the verdict was read. “The defense tried to characterize the victim in a certain way and it’s fortunate and telling that jurors are able to see these cases for what they really are.”

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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