- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A prosecutor shocked a Las Vegas courtroom Thursday with a graphic account of school bus video he said showed the sexual assault of a 3-year-old special needs girl by her 55-year-old bus driver.

Michael Ray Banco stood in shackles, and the girl’s grandmother sobbed in the audience, while prosecutor Sam Martinez described Banco performing oral sex on the girl in the back row of the parked bus as pedestrians and cars passed by outside.

“Look how brazen he is,” Martinez said.

The video hasn’t been made public. It is considered both child pornography and evidence in an ongoing investigation, prosecutor Amy Ferreira said later.

Martinez argued that Banco deserves to remain jailed pending a preliminary hearing June 18 on 19 felony charges of kidnapping, child abuse, child sex assault and lewdness with a child.

The charges stem from allegations involving two children, and Martinez and Ferreira said police are interviewing almost a dozen other possible victims.

Banco could face up to life in prison if he’s convicted.

“It’s pretty rare that we encounter a case where the charges are so serious and the likelihood of conviction is so high,” Martinez told the judge.

Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen agreed and set bail for Banco at $3 million - adding $500,000 to the $2.5 million that Martinez sought.

Banco can’t raise that amount, defense attorney Robert Draskovich said outside court. He said he thought the judge was punishing his client by setting an unreachably high bail.

Draskovich said Banco intends to plead not guilty.

Banco’s father, Ron Banco of Irvine, California, spoke for the family outside court. He called the charges against his son a nightmare.

He told The Associated Press that Michael Banco moved to Las Vegas in 1993, and raised two daughters as a single parent after their mother died 17 years ago. The girls were 6 and 1 at the time, Ron Banco said.

Michael Banco for years received letters of commendation and thanks from school officials and children, the father said. He has no criminal record, and no one has ever alleged misconduct.

“For 20 years he’s gotten up in the morning and taken these kids in comfort and safety to their school and come back in the afternoon and taken them all to their respective houses,” Ron Banco said. “That can’t be ignored.”

Clark County School District officials said this week that Michael Banco is considered absent without leave and isn’t being paid.

District Attorney Steve Wolfson said outside court that the case was exceptional because of the strength of the video evidence against a person of trust in the school community.

“Very few cases are more serious than this, when you combine these egregious acts with the age of these vulnerable victims,” Wolfson said.

The grandmother of the 3-year-old, who has custody of girl, said outside court she was worried about the lasting effect the case was having on the child.

The Associated Press isn’t naming the grandmother to avoid identifying the child, a victim of an alleged sexual assault.

“When the news comes on, she points to the TV,” the grandmother said. “She says, ‘bus driver.’”

_____

This story has been corrected to show prosecutor’s last name is Ferreira, not Feliciano.

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