POCATELLO — Two local men used a social networking and dating app geared toward gay, bisexual and transgender people to arrange alleged sexual encounters with a 13-year-old boy, according to recently unsealed court records.
Joel Abraham Mingura and Dennis Justin Wright, who reside in the same Pocatello home, spent approximately 24 hours incarcerated at the Bannock County Jail before they were released upon posting their respective $2,500 bonds following their Aug. 16 arrests.
Mingura, 31, faces one count of lewd conduct with a child under the age of 16, and Wright, 23, has been charged with one count of lewd conduct with a child under the age of 16 and one count of rape for allegedly engaging in sex acts with the same 13-year-old boy in separate incidents this past May, according to court records.
Specific details of the allegations against Mingura and Wright contained in the affidavits of probable cause, documents that indicate why prosecutors have enough evidence to charge a person with a crime, were not initially available to the public because Bannock County prosecutors thought releasing the documents would endanger the safety of those involved in the case and make it difficult for the defendants’ to receive a fair trial.
Furthermore, Mingura’s case completely disappeared from the iCourt portal, the state’s criminal and civil case management system accessible to the public, following a Sept. 5 motion from the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office to seal the case via judicial order.
Judge Gaylen Box entered an order on Oct. 15 sealing Mingura’s case in order “to prevent harm to person(s) referred to in the police report contained in this file, that such information is highly intimate... and that disclosure would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person… and to preserve the (defendant’s) right to a fair trial.”
Box’s order not only prohibited the public from accessing all documents related to Mingura’s case, but also prohibited public access to any information concerning the scheduling of any future hearings or trial dates regarding Mingura through the iCourt portal.
On Oct. 24, the Idaho State Journal filed a public records request and subsequent petition to the court to unseal Mingura’s case. The next day, and after Mingura’s case was sent from the magistrate court to the district court level, Judge Rick Carnaroli issued an order unsealing Mingura’s case docket. Carnaroli also required the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office to file redacted affidavits of probable cause regarding Mingura and Wright that would be available to the public.
“In this case, the public interest predominates over privacy interests and concerns about the disclosure of highly intimate details about the facts that form the basis of the charges filed against Mingura and (Wright),” Carnaroli wrote in his court order. “This Court agrees with the premise that the business of the Court should be open to the public to promote confidence in our system of justice.… The public is at least entitled to know some information about this case and is certainly entitled to know when pretrial hearing(s) and trial are scheduled because this will be a public trial.”
The newly unsealed court documents shed light on the sex crimes Mingura and Wright allegedly committed.
According to a redacted police report included in the affidavits of probable cause, Mingura and the underage teenage boy began texting each other using Grindr, which boasts that it is “the world’s largest social networking app for gay, bi, trans, and queer people.”
Mingura and the 13-year-old boy made plans to meet up in the parking lot of the Pine Ridge Mall on May 24, police said. Mingura picked up the boy and drove back to his Pocatello home where he and the boy performed sexual acts on each other, police said. Mingura then drove the 13-year-old boy back to the mall parking lot, police said.
On May 25, Wright and the boy also began texting each other using Grindr, police said. Wright picked the 13-year-old boy up from a gas station parking lot in Chubbuck and drove him back to the Pocatello home Wright shared with Mingura, police said.
Wright and the 13-year-old boy performed sexual acts on each other at the home, police said.
Afterward, Wright drove the underage teenage boy back to the gas station, police said.
Wright and the boy also engaged in various sexual acts on May 26, according to police.
Police said the boy did not indicate on his Grindr profile that he was age 13. The boy told police that both Mingura and Wright commented on his “youthful appearance.”
Authorities learned of the alleged sexual abuse from the mother of the 13-year-old boy after she uncovered the messages sent between the boy, Wright and Mingura on the Grindr app on the boy’s phone.
After discovering the messages on the phone, the boy’s mother drove to the home Mingura and Wright shared to confront them, police said. The mother arrived at the home and made contact with Wright, who explained he thought the 13-year-old boy was older than he actually was.
Police attempted to reach Mingura and Wright at their home for several weeks following Wright’s interaction with the underage boy’s mother but were unable to do so until late July.
Both Mingura and Wright agreed to come to Pocatello police headquarters to talk to investigators about the alleged sex crimes but never showed up.
On Aug. 6, the Pocatello Police Department submitted the case to Bannock County prosecutors who subsequently filed the felony charges against Mingura and Wright.
Arrest warrants for Wright and Mingura were issued on Aug. 14 and they were arrested on Aug. 16.
Both Wright and Mingura remain out of jail after posting bond. They are due back at the Bannock County Courthouse for their jury trials on Feb. 4, 2020.
If convicted of the charges against them, Wright and Mingura are each facing a maximum sentence of life in prison.