La Ciudad de los Mojados-the City of the Wetbacks-is what hundreds of illegal immigrants from Mexico call their community of rundown houses and apartments near 16th Street and Van Buren. And Maria Robles and her 13-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth Robles, know practically everyone in that community because Robles owns Kuki's Store.

Maria Robles boasts that Kuki's, at 1465 East Van Buren, is one of the few places in Phoenix where a homesick person can buy such items as Mexican Coca-Cola (which contains less carbonation and sugar than the American variety).

Elizabeth grew up in Kuki's, where she routinely came each day after school to snack, watch videos and help her grandmother stock shelves. She often ran errands, too, like going down to the local Jack in the Box to get change when Maria Robles found she was running short.

On September 21, 1991, Maria Robles sent Elizabeth down to Jack in the Box on a change run.

She did not see her granddaughter again for five months. The 13-year-old, who is a U.S. citizen, had been taken to Mexico City and kept by a 21-year-old man named Javier Hernandez, Phoenix police later reported.

The seventh-grader says she had sex with the man and was put to work as a housekeeper and cook. But things soured and Hernandez, a Mexican citizen, dropped her off last February in the border city of Nogales.

Shortly after that, Hernandez also reportedly returned to Phoenix and now works as a dishwasher. (He could not be reached for comment.)

Maria Robles views the episode as a kidnaping and she points out that sex with children is a felony. But to her dismay, it is unlikely that Javier Hernandez will be prosecuted by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. The Phoenix police have not submitted sufficient evidence that crimes were committed, says Bill FitzGerald, a spokesman for the County Attorney's Office.

In fact, investigators, according to police records, seemed to paint Elizabeth as a 13-year-old Lolita-one cop even wrote that Elizabeth had sex for herself"-and Javier Hernandez as an affable fellow who succumbed to the child's advances. The police stopped their investigation in March.

The police said I had a good time with him," says Elizabeth. All I can say is that's a laugh."

The case raises troubling questions in an era when prosecutors and police say they vigorously enforce Arizona's strict laws against sex with minors. Under the state's Dangerous Crimes Against Children statutes, an 18-year-old can be sent to prison for 12 years for fondling his 14-year-old girlfriendÏeven if the child is a willing partner.

The most notorious case of an adult seducing a willing" child occurred in 1987, when Mesa schoolteacher Kenneth Lamberton stole off to Colorado with a 14-year-old student. Lamberton is now serving a 12-year prison term for having sex with the child.

After ¯New Times queried police last week about Elizabeth's case, the department reopened the investigation. Detectives have refused comment on the department's previous work on the case.

Maria Robles is not appeased by the reopened investigation. No one cares that my granddaughter, an American citizen, was taken down to Mexico by an adult and kept there for five months," she says.

MARIA ROBLES SAYS she always tried to keep a sharp eye on her granddaughter. She has raised Elizabeth, her son's daughter, since she was a baby. I knew then and know now what she is doing at all times," the grandmother says. If she goes to a movie, I take her. If she goes to a dance, I take her. If she goes shopping, I take her."

That attentiveness did not always sit well with Elizabeth, who calls her grandmother mom." Sometimes I fought with my mom," Elizabeth says. Sometimes she wanted me to do chores, and I didn't want to because I was lazy. Sometimes I'd ignore her, and sometimes I'd back-talk her."

None of this mother-daughter squabbling, Elizabeth says, escaped dishwasher Javier Hernandez, who struck up a friendship with the girl during his frequent visits to the store.

He told me," the girl recalls, that he wouldn't yell at me. `I'll never hit you,' he said. `I'll buy you things-I'll give you everything, clothes, jewelry, everything,' he said. I had a crush on him."

Hernandez, she says, dressed like a cholo, with clothes that were all baggy. He talked to me perfect, he never used no swear words. You know how rich guys talk, they don't swear. He talked like that."

After Hernandez formally asked Maria Robles if her granddaughter could be his novia, or girlfriend, the grandmother banished the dishwasher from Kuki's. She also forbade Elizabeth to see or talk to Hernandez.

The girl and the dishwasher continued secretly talking on the telephone.
One day, Elizabeth went with a family friend to get change at Jack in the Box. Javier Hernandez showed up at the fast-food joint in a used Thunderbird, which he had just purchased that day. (He later told police that Elizabeth had summoned him to the Jack in the Box.)