Affidavit: Undercover cops spotted Denver serial groper suspect washing car with telltale orange rag

Victims: Attacker covered car plate with rag

DENVER - A man accused of being Denver's serial groper was arrested after undercover officers spotted a man driving near Washington Park and noticed he and his car matched female victims' descriptions.

Police said undercover officers had been driving around areas where the attacks had occurred for weeks, looking for the suspected groper, a heavy-set Hispanic man with a shaved head, and his car, a dark-colored sedan that might be a Nissan Maxima or Altima.

The undercover officers tailing 26-year-old Juan Hernandez-Vargas moved in to talk to him after they saw the man washing his car with an orange cloth, the same color cloth several victims said their attacker used to cover his back license plate, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by 7NEWS.

Police said they stopped Hernandez-Vargas on Sept. 18, as he drove a black Nissan Maxima, because his front license plate was bent and obscured.

Police said after Hernandez-Vargas agreed to go talk with investigators "about an incident" at police headquarters, the man claimed responsibility for a string of incidents where six women and a 13-year-old girl were groped in Denver between Aug. 21 and Sept. 16, the affidavit said.

After being advised of his rights and agreeing to talk with police, "Hernandez-Vargas admitted having touched several women recently," the affidavit said.

"He said that he would see a woman walking or jogging and he would pull into an alley, cover his license plate and then grab the woman as she passed. He said that he could not remember all the cases, but did confirm that one woman had her dog with her and others had a stroller," the affidavit said.

Hernandez-Vargas also said he remembered a Sept. 16 incident, when a 13-year-old girl said she was walking home in Observatory park and a man a grabbed her around the waist from behind and pulled her, the affidavit said. The girl told police she screamed and the man ran away.

A witness to that attack and another source told 7NEWS the man was trying to abduct the girl until she screamed. Two of the victims were women pushing strollers and one woman was walking her dog, the affidavit said.

Hernandez-Vargas told police he was motivated by sexual arousal and gratification, according to the affidavit.

Several victims said a man lurking in alleys had rushed up from behind and grabbed their buttocks, the affidavit said.

The man sometimes said, "Hi," to his victims before groping them, the affidavit said.

Police said the victims described their attacker as a Hispanic man with a shaved head who stands about 6 feet tall and weighs between 170 and 200 pounds.

After a Sept. 11 attack near South Ogden Street and East Kentucky Avenue, police said they obtained surveillance video showing the suspect removing something covering the rear license plate of the Nissan Maxima parked in an alley, the affidavit said.

Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey has formally charged Hernandez-Vargas with two felony counts, unlawful sexual contact with force and attempted sexual assault on a child. He's also charged with three misdemeanor counts of unlawful sexual contact.

Hernandez-Vargas remains in custody in the Denver Detention Center; his bond is set at $20,000.

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman said Hernandez-Vargas is an illegal immigrant from Mexico. ICE has placed a "no bond allowed" hold on him, so he can only be released to immigration authorities.

Police are not releasing an arrest photo of Hernandez-Vargas, because they are conducting photo lineups with victims in the case.