A San Francisco judge ordered an alleged serial rapist held without bail Tuesday and scheduled further hearings on the case for Thursday.
Orlando Vilchez Lazo, 37, was arrested last week and booked into San Francisco jail on suspicion of nearly four-dozen felonies. Prosecutors filed 12 criminal charges against him Tuesday, stemming from four separate sexual assaults — one in 2013 and three this year. He allegedly picked up women outside bars in the city's South of Market district by posing as a driver they'd ordered using a ride-hailing app, according to police.
In the rapes alleged this year, prosecutors charge that Vilchez Lazo used a knife to threaten women he kidnapped and raped.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are seeking to deport Vilchez Lazo to Peru. The federal agency said it lodged a request with San Francisco sheriff's deputies to turn Vilchez Lazo over to immigration authorities if he is released.
The request, known as an immigration detainer, has been found by federal courts to violate defendants' constitutional rights if it results in inmates being held for longer than they would otherwise be released, and San Francisco "sanctuary city" policies generally prohibit cooperation with the ICE requests.
Immigration officials said they expected the detention request to be ignored.
"The San Francisco jail does not honor ICE detainers nor notify ICE about the impending release of aliens in its custody," ICE's statement says. "In doing so, the jail not only provides a refuge for illegal aliens, but it also shields criminal aliens who prey on people in the community.”
Prosecutors and defense attorneys said the statement from ICE is confusing because San Francisco's sanctuary policies are not at issue in the case.
"This person has no criminal history," district attorney's spokesman Alex Bastian said. "This is a state-court case."
City and state laws limiting cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials would only have affected Vilchez Lazo if he had been in criminal custody before his most recent arrest and was not turned over to ICE, attorneys familiar with the case said.
"This case has nothing to do with the sanctuary laws in San Francisco," deputy public defender Eric Quandt said outside of court Tuesday. "It has nothing to do with Mr. Vilchez Lazo's immigration status whatsoever. This looks to be an attempt by ICE at advancing their political agenda."
The politicization of the case echoes the national fallout after the 2015 slaying of Kathryn Steinle on a pedestrian pier near San Francisco's Ferry Building. Jose Inez Garcia Zarate had been released from San Francisco jail two months before the shooting — despite an ICE detainer — and was charged with murdering Steinle.
Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump seized on the case to criticize so-called "sanctuary cities" and as an example of violence committed by immigrants in the country illegally.
Garcia Zarate was acquitted of the most serious charges after his defense attorneys successfully argued that the shooting was a freak accident: Garcia Zarate had picked up an object wrapped in some kind of cloth while sitting on the pier. It was a gun stolen a few days prior from a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger, and it went off as he unwrapped it, ricocheting off the concrete pier and traveling another 78 feet before hitting Steinle in the back.
Jurors did find Garcia Zarate guilty of illegally possessing the gun. He was subsequently charged with gun possession in federal court and faces a 20-year prison sentence if convicted.
Original Post Friday, July 13:
A San Mateo man is in jail in San Francisco and facing felony charges for allegedly posing as a driver for a ride-hailing app to lure women into his car and sexually assault them.
Orlando Vilchez Lazo, 37, was arrested in San Mateo on Thursday under suspicion of dozens of charges stemming from four separate rapes and assaults, San Francisco police Commander Greg McEachern announced at a press conference on Friday.
"These assaults were violent rapes committed by a serial rapist -- a sexual deviant predator who was not going to stop until he was caught," McEachern said, his voice beginning to shake. He apologized for becoming emotional. "This is the exact thing that everyone fears could happen in this city."
The first assault was reported in 2013, McEachern said, and the then-unknown assailant's DNA profile was uploaded into a national criminal database. But it didn't match any existing profiles.
All investigators knew was that an unidentified man had pulled up to a local bar and pretended to be the driver a woman had booked via a "common rideshare company." Police didn't identify which service was involved but said multiple companies cooperated in the investigation.
"Instead of going home safely and arriving, the driver of that vehicle, on a ruse that he was a rideshare driver, took that victim to another location and sexually assaulted her," McEachern said.
The case sat dormant for five years, and then in late February, it happened again. DNA from that case, as well as the tactics involved, matched the case from 2013.
The suspect had a sticker or placard identifying him as an app-service driver, police said, and he appears to have used different vehicles in the attacks, according to descriptions from the survivors.
Another woman reported a third rape about a week later, and again, the forensics and M.O. matched.
That's when the Police Department launched a task force and named the case the "Rideshare Rapist series," McEachern said. The task force included several SFPD divisions as well as the district attorney's office and assistance from the FBI.
"The duties of those task force officers were to author numerous search warrants, follow all investigative leads that we had up to that point, conduct undercover and uniform surveillance and to follow every lead that we could to every location that we could imagine," McEachern said. "We went as far south as San Jose and as far east as Stockton on leads over the last couple of months."
But investigators didn't find their suspect, and a fourth woman reported a sexual assault in June — same tactics, same DNA. The suspect allegedly used a knife to threaten his target, police said.
McEachern said the final break in the case came over the weekend, when undercover officers staking out bars in the South of Market neighborhood, where the suspect had operated before, spotted "an individual whose behavior and M.O. matched the description from the four previous sexual assaults."
Officers pulled Orlando Vilchez Lazo over and somehow collected a DNA sample from him. McEachern declined to elaborate on how the sample was obtained, but he said Vilchez Lazo provided it knowingly.
SFPD's crime lab matched the sample to the most recent rape on Tuesday.
"We knew we had the same suspect for all four rapes," McEachern said. "It’s hard to say what was in the mind of an individual like this, but the fact that he’s committed these four rapes over five years led us to believe he was a very dangerous person who wasn’t going to stop until we caught him."
Vilchez Lazo was arrested Thursday in San Mateo and booked into San Francisco jail under suspicion of dozens of felonies, including false imprisonment, kidnapping, assault with intent to commit rape, sexual penetration with a foreign object and rape, according to the Police Department. He was being held on $4.3 million bail, according to Sheriff's Department records.
Police couldn't immediately explain the five-year gap in the alleged assaults, but they are asking anyone with information about similar crimes to come forward.
"We believe there are other victims that may be out there," McEachern said.
Vilchez Lazo has no known criminal record, according to police, and they've been unable to verify whether Vilchez Lazo had ever worked for a ride-hailing company.
He appears to have answered a survey conducted by the California Public Utilities Commission in August of 2016, asking respondents for their feelings on whether prospective ride-hailing drivers should be required to submit to fingerprinting. A San Mateo resident with the name Orlando Vilchez voted "No."
This post includes reporting from The Associated Press.