Warrant details New London attempted abduction investigation

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New London police allege that the 31-year-old man charged with exposing himself and attempting to abduct a 9-year-old girl on State Pier Road was driving a borrowed pickup truck.

Stephen M. Cardoza of 77 Briar Lane, Norwich, was charged Tuesday with risk of injury to a child, public indecency, third-degree criminal trespass and breach of peace. He was released after posting a $50,000 bond and is due to appear in court Sept. 18.

The incident occurred about 12:45 p.m. on Aug. 3, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. The 9-year-old girl told police she got off the bus after summer school and was walking home when a "big gray pickup truck" pulled up next to her. She said the man inside had his window down and his pants unzipped with his hand on his private parts.

The man said he was friends with her mom, who he said asked him to pick the girl up, and asked her name, she said. She told him her name. She said she became scared when he opened the door, so she ran away and told her sister what happened. Her sister then called an aunt.

Police were able to obtain surveillance photos of the suspected vehicle, a gray pickup with white stickers in the upper left and right corners of the rear window, from a parking lot at 93 State Pier Road. They distributed the photos to news agencies and posted them on Facebook.

On Aug. 5, two days after the incident, a "concerned citizen" who saw the Facebook post told an officer he believed the pickup was located in a driveway in Quaker Hill. New London detectives went to the home the next day and photographed the gray Dodge Ram truck but nobody answered the door at the residence.

Later that day, Waterford police officers located and spoke to the homeowner, Mitchell Gahagan. He told them he allows Cardoza, whom he considers his son even though Gahagan is not his biological father, to use the truck from time to time. Gahagan said Cardoza, who doesn't own a car, had borrowed the truck on Aug. 3, the day of the incident, but hadn't used it since.

On Aug. 10, Gahagan told detectives during an audio recorded interview that he had seen pictures of the truck on TV news reports about the incident but didn't think it was his truck because his "son would never do anything like that." Gahagan said he asked Cardoza why the truck was captured on surveillance cameras at the scene of the incident. He said Cardoza, who suffers from anxiety and has a medical marijuana card, told him he pulled over to roll a blunt.

Gahagan admitted that after the first time police went to his house, he decided to scrape the decals off the back of the truck and paint the tailgate because he didn't want some "vigilante justice guy" yanking him out of the truck and beating him up because they thought he was molesting a 9-year-old girl.  

Cardoza, confronted at work at a Toyota dealership in Norwich, said he wasn't feeling well that day and went to a doctor's office near Lawrence + Memorial in New London. He said he stopped at CVS to pick up a prescription, pulled over to roll a blunt in the area of Bailey Circle on Williams Street and was back in Norwich at 1:05 p.m. He said he had "nothing to do with what you guys say are happening."

Confronted with surveillance pictures of the pickup truck that were taken in the parking lot, he continued to assert he had just pulled over to roll a blunt and was in Norwich when the incident occurred.

The 9-year-old girl, who had provided a detailed description of the suspect, was presented a photo lineup that included pictures of Cardoza and seven other men.

After pointing at several of the other photos and stating, "not that one," she pointed to Cardoza's photo, which was a mugshot from a 2014 arrest in Warwick, R.I., and said, "Maybe that one."

Cardoza has prior convictions for first-degree criminal trespass and second-degree harassment, according to Judicial Branch records.

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