PINE TOWNSHIP – The criminal prosecution of a North Carolina man accused of raping a Pine Township girl he connected with on social media will move to Mercer County Common Pleas Court.

Benito Garcia Rodriguez, 25, of Engelhard, N.C., is also accused of promoting the prostitution of a minor for sending her money in exchange for nude photos, state police said.

He is scheduled for a common pleas court arraignment Nov. 11 before Judge Daniel Wallace.

According to a criminal complaint, Mercer County Children and Youth Services contacted police on Sept. 1, 2020, with information that a school counselor received from a girl, who was 13 at the time of the alleged incident.

The girl told investigators that a man from North Carolina abducted her and assaulted her in a vehicle parked at a local business, according to court documents.

Police said he man – later identified as Rodriguez – and the girl met on Snapchat, a mobile app used to exchange photos, videos and messages.

The girl told police that Rodriguez contacted her via Snapchat in early 2020. He soon offered her money if she would send him nude photos of herself.

She told Rodriguez that she was 13, and he said he didn’t care. The girl sent some photos through Snapchat, and he sent her money through Venmo, an electronic money transfer app.

The two exchanged phone numbers, and they kept in touch on Snapchat and over the phone almost daily, she said.

She said Rodriguez offered her money to meet in person. They had meetings in July and September of 2020. Both times, he picked her up down the street from her home.

During one of those meetings, police said Rodriguez drove to a Pine Township business and parked far away from the store.

Police said he then raped the girl even after she told him to stop multiple times, and as she cried and tried to fight him off.

Police ascertained Rodriguez’s identity by checking booking records at local hotels and obtained search warrants for the Snapchat and Venmo accounts for Rodriguez and the girl, and his cell phone records.

The investigation revealed that Rodriguez had stayed at a local hotel in September 2020, and found 13 payments totaling $1,075 sent from Rodriguez to the girl.

Police matched Rodriguez’s North Carolina driver’s license photo to a description provided by the girl. Snapchat records confirmed that Rodriguez asked the girl for nude photos and videos in exchange for payment. In several messages, he offers to pay her for sex.

Rodriguez was charged March 17 by state police with rape, statutory sexual assault, photographing, filming or depicting a computer sex act of a child, contacting or communicating with a minor for sexual abuse, sexual assault, unlawful contact with a minor, promoting prostitution of a minor, three counts of aggravated indecent assault and two counts of corruption of minors.

He was returned to Mercer County Jail after a preliminary hearing before District Judge D. Neil McEwen and is being held on $100,000 bond.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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