New details in search for missing woman

December 12, 2008 6:05:35 AM PST
A convicted sex offender linked to the disappearance of a missing woman from Brooklyn may also be facing charges in New Jersey. Michael Mele, 23, is a primary person of interest in the case of a woman last seen leaving a nightclub in Chelsea.Mele is currently behind bars in Rockland County for a parole violation.

However, new details are emerging in the disappearance of 25-year-old Laura Garza, who was last seen with Mele heading to his home in Wallkill. And Tuesday, police are expected to move Mele from Rockland County lockup to Orange County.

Eyewitness News has obtained an affidavit filed by the Orange County prosecutor's office on Saturday, asking for permission to take pictures of Mele unclothed.

The judge approved the request after Newburgh police noticed a bite mark on Mele's finger, as well as and scratches on his shoulder and back when he turned himself in on Friday.

Police extended their search for Garza Monday, looking in the woods along Interstate 84 in Newburgh.

Meanwhile, Garza's family in Texas is suffering through the unknown. Her devastated mother and brother wait for any news about her disappearance.

Garza's mother say she loves her daughter and wants her to return home safe and sound.

She has been missing since Wednesday, when security cameras at Club Marquee captured Mele, Garza and another man leaving the nightclub at 4 a.m. That man told New York City police that they had dropped him off on their way to Mele's apartment.

According to court papers, when police showed up to search Mele's condo in Wallkill two days later, portions of the rug in the living room, hallway, master bedroom and closet had been cut out. They say the apartment had been bleached thoroughly.

Mele, who owns a local Quiznos franchise, has not been charged in the case. Given that, his lawyer, Craig Brown, declined to comment on his guilt or innocence.

Even if Mele is released from custody in New York, it appears he will immediately be wanted in New Jersey.

Authorities in Paramus have a felony warrant for Mele. He is accused of public lewdness and exposing himself to a child under 13 years of age in a shopping mall.

Mele pleaded guilty on Saturday to a Manhattan traffic infraction - parking on the pavement - and he was jailed afterward in Rockland County for violating his six-year probation sentence for the sex offenses, Brown said Monday.

For one thing, he shouldn't have been drinking at the bar on Wednesday, said Sgt. Harry Baumann, of the Clarkstown police. He had also failed to report to his probation officer and had missed sex-offender treatment sessions, Baumann said.

Mele was being held on $50,000 bail pending a Dec. 22 court appearance.

Garza moved from Texas to Bay Ridge about six months ago and was working at a Manhattan shoe store before she vanished. She is a native of Mexico.

No arrests have been made in the case.

Garza's cousin, Isela Villalobos, said Monday from Mission, Texas, that Garza loved New York after moving there from McAllen.

"She went there for a vacation this year and she came back and told her mother she was moving," Villalobos said. "She loved fashion and she loved the dance, and where else but New York do you go for that?"

Garza had worked in a clothing store in McAllen, Texas, and worked in a shoe store in Manhattan. Villalobos said Garza wanted to pay off some debts before applying to three dance schools in the city.

She also said Garza would never have left the club willingly with Mele.

"She was a good girl, she came home every night," she said.

Anyone with information is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 1-800 577-tips or text tips to 274637 then enter tip577.

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