Police Search for Missing NYC Woman Last Seen With Sex Offender

Laura Garza, 25, was last seen with Michael Mele, police said.

Dec. 8, 2008— -- Police continue to search today for a missing New York City woman who was seen last week leaving a Manhattan club with a convicted sex offender.

Police searched the Wallkill, N.Y., condo of sex offender Michael Mele, 23, this weekend for clues in the disappearance of Laura Garza.

The 25-year-old aspiring dancer, who had recently moved to New York from Texas, was seen leaving the Marquee nightclub, a Manhattan hot spot, late Wednesday with Mele and was later spotted in upstate New York, police said.

Mele was being held in the Rockland County jail on a probation violation, said Rockland County Sheriff James Kralik.

Mele, who has not been charged in connection with Garza's disappearance, was convicted and sentenced to probation earlier this year on a forcible touching charge for inappropriately touching several women, in some cases attempting to masturbate on them, at the Palidades Center mall in Clarkstown, police said.

"He's a crazy sucker, this guy," said Clarkstown Police Sgt. Bernard Cummings. "His behavior was escalating. In all my years, seeing this kind of behavior is a little off the radar here."

The New York State Police, which is leading the investigation into Garza's disappearance, said they want to speak with any woman who may have come into contact with Mele in the last year.

"Mele has a history of being sexually aggressive towards women and confronting women in secluded areas to perform lewd acts," the state police said in a statement.

Mele has been charged with a probation violation for reportedly drinking alcohol, failing to report to his probation officer and failing to attend a sex-offender treatment program, Kralik said.

Mele, the son of a retired deputy chief of the Metropolitan Transit Authority police, has not spoken to police on his lawyer's advice, according to the statement. His attorney declined to comment and his probation officer did not immediately return a call for comment.

Garza came to New York five months ago from McAllen, Texas, a city of about 130,000 people not far from the Mexico border.

Missing Woman Left Night Club with Sex Offender

The aspiring dancer was drawn by the excitement of the big city and settled in the Bayridge section of Brooklyn, her friends and co-workers said.

"She wanted to experience the big city environment. She was really excited when she left," said Eddie Garza, the manager of the Charlotte Russe clothing store in McAllen where she worked.

"She was a very hardworking girl. She had morals," said Garza, who is not related to Laura Garza. "She's not some girl that goes to clubs and picks up guys."

Garza was seen leaving the Marquee early Wednesday morning with Mele and a friend, according to police.

Local police said Mele was the owner of a Quizno's sandwich shop and lived in a high-end condominium in Wallkill. He reportedly had a flashy style and drove a 2005 Infiniti and, according to police, had been known to drive a Jaguar, Bentley and Lamborghini.

Police sources confirmed that Mele had what appeared to be bite marks on his hand and scratch marks on his upper back and shoulders when he was booked Friday evening. The New York Daily News reported that police believe Mele cleaned his apartment with bleach before the apartment was searched.

Mele was sentenced to probation earlier this year for forcible touching, a misdemeanor, for masturbating on women in the parking lot of the Palisades Mall, said Cummings.

In one incident, according to Cummings, Mele masturbated on a woman's car door after she locked herself in the car.

Mele is also being held on charges of lewdness in a public place and exposure to a child under 13 for a 2005 incident in Paramus, N.J., said Det. Lt. William Barbera of the Rockland County Sheriff's Office.

Barbera said the charges were based on a recent DNA match.