A Kennewick man caught in an online sting last month for trying to have sex with a girl left the United States for 2 1/2 weeks to travel throughout the Middle East.
Ali A. Almafoodh, 35, returned through Philadelphia on Aug. 1, but police and prosecutors don’t believe he made his way back to the Tri-Cities.
He is charged in Benton County Superior Court with one count of attempted second-degree rape of a child.
On Wednesday, Judge Vic VanderSchoor issued a nationwide warrant for his arrest and set bail at $500,000.
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He based the warrant on Almafoodh’s unknown whereabouts, along with his violating conditions of release and failure to appear at the scheduled hearing.
Deputy Prosecutor Diana Ruff waited to request the warrant because she wasn’t sure if Almafoodh would show up to court.
Attorney Norma Rodriguez represented Almafoodh at his July 13 arraignment, but she never was formally retained since he allegedly left town the following day.
Rodriguez told VanderSchoor on Wednesday that Almafoodh is not her client and she has had no communication with him.
This is the fourth sex case in three years in Benton County where the defendant ran off while his case was moving through the judicial system. The other three men have not been captured, and at least two of them may have left the country.
Almafoodh was one of 26 men arrested in a five-day online sting targeting people interested in having sex with children.
The multi-agency effort, dubbed the Tri-Cities Net Nanny operation, had officers posing as parents or kids in advertisements on several websites.
Almafoodh allegedly responded on July 7 to a 13-year-old runaway girl looking for an “older daddy.”
He immediately gave the girl his cellphone number, court documents said. Then, after receiving photos of an undercover Washington State Patrol trooper who looked like a teen girl, he made plans to go to her house to have sex, documents said.
After his arrest in Richland, Almafoodh admitted he was on his way to the house, but claimed he didn’t read the whole email and didn’t realize the girl’s age.
Almafoodh was released from the Benton County jail after posting bond on $10,000 bail. Then, at Almafoodh's July 13 arraignment, Ruff asked for his bail to be increased to $25,000.
Judge Cameron Mitchell allowed Almafoodh to remain out of custody and gave him two weeks to come up with the additional $15,000. Mitchell gave the same extension to several other suspects who appeared before him that day.
But federal agents discovered that Almafoodh allegedly didn’t stick around for long.
Almafoodh’s conditions of release included staying within the boundaries of Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties. However, Tri-Cities Crime Stoppers got an anonymous tip last week that Almafoodh had left the United States for Iraq.
Richland police Detective Sgt. Darryl Judge contacted Homeland Security Investigations, who confirmed that a man with the same name and birth date as Almafoodh flew out of Philadelphia on July 14 and went to Doha, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, court documents said.
Ruff said Almafoodh was born in Iraq but is an American citizen. She added that she was told he may have gone on to Iraq after traveling to Qatar and the UAE.
Federal agents can only track his passport through ports of entry and departure.
Almafoodh’s passport activity shows he returned to Philadelphia on Aug. 1, documents said.
If Almafoodh is captured, he will have to surrender his passport while the attempted child rape case is pending.
Ruff told the Herald that she treated Almafoodh like all other U.S. citizens, and had no indication that he would flee. She said she can’t suspect that a person is going to violate conditions of release based on their nationality or where they were born.
“I have no reason to think anyone else is out of compliance with the conditions of their release,” Ruff said of the other 25 suspects from the online sting. “I have no reports from the clerk’s office or the jail that people failed to post the extra money or turned themselves in, and they’re good at keeping track of that.”
People with any information on the whereabouts of Almafoodh or other Tri-City suspects on the lam are encouraged to contact Tri-Cities Crime Stoppers at 509-586-8477, 800-222-8477 or tricitiescrimestoppers.org.