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Utah pranksters in trouble after enticing kids with candy

Published June 24, 2013 6:57 pm

Police say siblings filmed encounters as an "experiment with social norms."
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A man and his younger brother and sister might face charges after allegedly driving around in a van and enticing children with candy — events they later claimed were part of an "experiment with social norms."

Police received several calls on Wednesday about the suspicious van in Alpine. A man in the front passenger seat reportedly asked children if they had seen a lost puppy, then opened the back door of the silver van and offered them sweets, according to the Lone Peak Police Department.

It appeared the suspects were targeting children ages 8 to 10, according to the police. Officers asked the public to keep an eye out for the silver van driving slowly around the neighborhoods.

Apparently, it was all a prank and an experiment. After the police publicized surveillance photos of the van on their Facebook page on Friday, a 25-year-old man and his juvenile brother and sister turned themselves in at the station.

They apologized and told the police that they were playing a prank and conducting an "experiment with social norms," according to a Lone Peak Police Department news release. They also filmed the encounters, and "many were very concerning and several children took up the offer of free candy," according to the police.

The trio apologized, but because of the alarm the prank raised, the police intend to forward the case to the prosecutor's office to screen for charges, such as disorderly conduct.

In a Facebook post, the police reminded parents to talk to their children about the dangers of approaching strangers.

A Provo man accused of terrorizing and kidnapping his ex-girlfriend was sentenced to probation and jail time on Monday.

Juan Alberto Leiva, 23, pleaded no contest to aggravated assault, a second-degree felony. He admitted in plea agreement documents filed in 4th District Court to assaulting his then-ex-girlfriend on June 9, 2012. He married the woman days before his trial in April.

Leiva and the woman wed so she would not have to testify against him, according to prosecutors, who noted that the woman had already testified at length during a previous preliminary hearing.

The marriage issue became moot, however, when Leiva accepted the plea deal.

On Monday, a judge sentenced Leiva to one-to-15 years in prison, but suspended the prison term in favor of six days in Utah County Jail, followed by 36 months probation. He was given credit for three days that he had already spent in the jail.

As part of his probation, Leiva was ordered to undergo anger management counseling.

According to court documents, the couple had broken up two days before the June assault. But upon hearing that the woman had gone on a date with another man, Leiva went to her Provo apartment and allegedly forced the Brigham Young University student into his car.

Leiva drove her into a nearby empty parking lot. He demanded to see her cellphone in order to look at texts and other information about her date, and when she refused, police say he ripped her clothes off, including her V-neck T-shirt, her bra and panties, according to court documents.

Police say Leiva then began driving, but the woman jumped out of the car near 900 East and 900 North. Leiva caught up to her and tackled her, but she was able to escape and run back to her apartment after a bystander confronted Leiva, according to court documents.

Leiva was originally charged with four counts of first-degree felony aggravated kidnapping and assault, a class B misdemeanor. The kidnapping charges were related to other alleged episodes similar to what happened on June 9.

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller