Merchant's arrests unnerve locals

As shopkeepers swept the sidewalk and opened doors on Ocean Avenue late Wednesday morning, one shop remained quiet.

Sirous and Sons Rug Gallery advertised a "Big Season Sale." Persian rugs were heaped high on the floor and were hanging from the rafters and walls.

Police arrested the rug store's manager, Saeid Boustanabadi Maralan, 53, on charges that he victimized eight women at the shop located in the heart of Laguna's bustling retail village.

He was first arrested on Sept. 1 and then again on new charges Wednesday.

Among the charges are two felony counts of forcible rape, attempted forcible rape, sexual penetration with a foreign object by force, assault with the intent to commit oral copulation and distributing computer pornography to a minor.

Police said the minor was an intern at the store.

A woman worked at a desk at the back of the store on Wednesday. She said she was Maralan's wife but declined to comment, adding that her husband was "unavailable."

Calls to Maralan's attorney were not returned.

The allegations shook up the close-knit merchants in Laguna Beach, where independent store owners and locals share relationships more familiar than those typically found in the impersonal shopping centers of other cities.

Many locals say they just cannot fathom one of their own committing the crimes of which Maralan is accused.

"(Crime) happens everywhere, but to have it happen right next door is kind of unsettling," said Agnes "Aggie" Dougherty, a bookkeeper at the Marine Room Tavern, which shares a wall with Sirous and Sons.

Heidi Miller, owner of the World Newsstand at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Coast Highway, said Maralan made inappropriate comments to her on occasion and once asked her to drink wine with him at his store.

"I learned to move rather fast past there," she said.

Gina Harris, who owns Seaside Interiors on Beach Street, said,

"Scary characters get away with things for a while before they get caught."

Helga Sommer, who works across the street at Fiori, said, "

It's sad that something like this would happen in our little town."

Many locals asked why it took so long to arrest Maralan, whose allegations date back to 2007.

Laguna Beach police Lt. Jason Kravetz said the first few cases did not have enough evidence to move forward, and the victims were reluctant to assist in prosecution. He said a case from March 2011 got the investigation going, which allowed police to serve a search warrant at the store. Then they had a story and physical evidence.

The most recent charges stem from four of the six potential victims who have come forward since the story hit newsstands last week, Kravetz said.

Maralan, whose bail after his first arrest was set at $1 million, posted bail and was released Sept. 9. He was rearrested Wednesday at the San Clemente location of Sirous and Sons.

He was back in Orange County Jail at press time. His bail was set at $2 million.

Sirous and Sons is also involved in a legal battle with the city. Councilman Kelly Boyd said the store filed a $15-million legal claim against the city, citing damages from the December floods.

The council denied the claim at its June 21 meeting.

Twitter: @joannaclay

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World