ST. PETE BEACH — The boys on the beach all knew Gil Benitez. The local photographer took pictures of young male surfers, skimboarders and skateboarders, posted them on popular surfing websites, and promised the exposure would help the boys attract the sponsors they'd need to pursue careers in the sport.
"But there was always something weird about the guy," said 21-year-old Michael Siniscalchi of St. Pete Beach. "Something didn't add up."
On Dec. 5, police received a complaint about the photographer from the parents of a 16-year-old boy who said he had been sexually abused by Benitez, 44, at the photographer's apartment.
St. Pete Beach Police wired the boy with a recording device and asked him to meet with the photographer at a public place.
The photographer "admitted the whole thing," said Detective Dennis Curtin. "He was arrested and charged with one count of sexual battery on a minor."
Benitez, whose real name is Guillermo Trejos, is being held in the Pinellas County Jail. The native of Colombia also is being questioned by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Curtin said.
Curtin said Trejos apparently was most interested in younger-looking teenagers. The photographer's website, undefinedphoto.com, posts surf and skim reports as well as action shots of surfers ripping up local breaks. The surfers, mostly boys and men, are not identified by name.
"I thought it was unusual that a guy in his 40s was hanging around with teenagers," said Jan Joslin of Indian Rocks Beach, whose teenage son Michael Romano was photographed several times by Trejos. "He had all this expensive equipment. He said it was his passion. He seemed very believable."
But Curtin said that on Nov. 25, the 16-year-old boy, who had been "feuding" with his parents, accepted an invitation to crash on the couch at Trejos' apartment at 7200 Bay St., St. Pete Beach.
Later that night, Trejos performed oral sex on the youth while he slept and was "physically helpless" to resist, according to the police report. At the Police Department's urging, the boy later made contact with Trejos, who during the recorded conversation admitted the act, Curtin said.
Curtin said it was not the first time that Trejos has faced such charges. According to the Press of Atlantic City in New Jersey, Trejos was stopped by police and arrested in 2006 in North Wildwood, an area with a vibrant surf scene.
Trejos was wanted on sexual assault charges in Pennsylvania and contempt of court warrants in Cherry Hill, N.J., the newspaper stated. Official records on the case, including the disposition of those charges, were not available Friday.
Curtin said his department put out a news release shortly after Trejos' arrest in case there are other possible victims. "We wanted to get the word out," he said. "Everybody knew this guy. He has been a fixture on the beach for several years."
Tony Focher, a 17-year-old surfer who works part-time at the Surf Shack Surf Shop on St. Pete Beach, said he has seen Trejos around, but the photographer typically befriended younger surfers. "He's always around ... shooting pics," he said. "He hits all the spots ... Upham Beach, Sunset (Beach).''
Joslin, whose son Michael is a standout surfer, invited Trejos into her home to look at his photography.
"It kind of makes me sick just thinking about it now," she said. "It just shows that you always have to beware. Don't take things at face value."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Terry Tomalin can be reached at email@example.com.