Sheriff’s department psychologist from La Canada Flintridge guilty of child molestation

A former Los Angeles County sheriff’s Department psychologist from La Canada Flintridge could face life in prison after a jury convicted him Friday of sexually abusing two young relatives over more than two years, authorities said.
A Los Angeles County jury convicted Michael Dane Ward, 45, of four counts of committing lewd acts on a child, two counts of forcible lewd acts on a child under 14, three counts of oral copulation of a child under 10 and one count of sodomy of a child under 10, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials announced in a written statement.
“Sentencing is set for Oct. 19, when Ward faces a possible maximum sentence of life in prison,” according to the statement. The jury deliberated for three days before finding Ward guilty.
Should Ward ever be released from prison, he is expected to be required to register as a sex offender, district attorney’s office spokesman Greg Risling said.
Ward’s crimes took place between October of 2014 and March of 2016, prosecutors said at the time. His victims were both family members: a then-9-year-old boy and a then-10-year-old girl. Both victims testified against him at trial.
He was employed by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department as a psychologist at the time of his arrest. His specific duties within the department were not available, but sheriff’s officials said he was not a sworn deputy.
In a statement issued in the days following Ward’s arrest, the sheriff’s department described the allegations as “deeply troubling.”
“These allegations were not as a result of contacts he made within the scope of his work with the Sheriff’s Department,” according to the statement.
Ward was relieved of duty the same day he was arrested on May 5, 2016, sheriff’s officials added.
Ward posted $2 million bail 12 days after his May 5, 2016 arrest and had remained free pending the trial process, Los Angeles County booking records show.
Following the jury’s verdict on Friday, he was immediately remanded into custody without bail pending his sentencing in October in the Los Angeles branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court.

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Whittier man sentenced to 31 years in prison in teen sextortion case

A Whittier man received a 31-year prison sentence Wednesday for obtaining nude photos of teenage girls, then extorting them for sex by threatening to share the photos, as well harm them or their families, officials said.
Josh Manuel Magana, 28, pleaded “no contest” last month to two counts of forcible oral copulation, forcible rape, forcible rape of a an underage victim and extortion, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said in a written statement.
Magana met his victims online via the social media app “KIK,” Lt. Kent Wegener of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Human Trafficking Bureau said at the time of the arrest. He used the online moniker, “thegiftedmonster.”
The investigation began in October of 2016, after Magana pressured a 15-year-old girl to send him nude photos of herself,” Ardalani said.
“The defendant told the girl that if she refused, then he would hurt her and her family,” she said. “The girl told her mother, who then notified law enforcement.”
As the investigation continued, detectives identified a second teenage girl who reported that Magana had threatened to distribute nude photos of her if she refused to have sex with him, officials said.
Investigators arrested Magana in February.
“Due to media coverage of the case, a third victim came forward and revealed that the defendant also had been forcing her to have sex with him,” according to Ardalani. Her age was not available Wednesday.
Once released from prison, Magana will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

PHOTO: Josh Manuel Magana, 28, of Whittier. (Courtesy, LASD)

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South El Monte elementary school teacher denied molesting students

A South El Monte elementary school teacher accused of inappropriately touching five female students denied five criminal charges in court on Thursday, officials said.
Joseph Alfred Baldenebro, 54, of Montebello has served as a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in South El Monte for the past 21 years, according to Lt. Todd Deeds of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Special Victims Bureau.
Prosecutors charged him in June with one felony count of committing a lewd act upon a child and four misdemeanor counts of child molestation for alleged crimes against the students, which took place on school grounds between August of 2015 and May of 2017, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani. He served as a 4th- and 5th-grade teacher at the time of the alleged crimes.
Following his arrest on June 21, Baldenebro posted $102,000 bail on July 1 and was released from custody pending the trial process, Los Angeles County booking records show.
He pleaded not guilty Thursday during an arraignment hearing in the Pomona branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court, authorities said.
Mountain View School District officials said Baldenebro was placed on administrative leave once the allegations came to light.
If convicted as charged, Baldenebro could face up to 12 years in state prison.

PHOTO of suspect Joseph Baldenebro courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

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Torch Middle School ex-janitor accused of molesting eight students, more victims sought

A former janitor at an Industry middle school faces charges of molesting eight female students, authorities announced Thursday.
Michael Anthony Barry worked at Torch Middle School in the Bassett Unified School District for 16 years, according to Deputy Kimberly Alexander of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Information Bureau. Investigators from the sheriff’s Special Victims Bureau arrested him July 6.
Barry is accused of molesting eight children, according to a criminal complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The alleged molestation charged in the complaint took place between August of 2016 and May of this year.
“The acts Mr. Barry is alleged to have committed involved the inappropriate touching of female students on school grounds,” according to Alexander.
And sheriff’s officials said they are seeking potential additional victims.
Torch Middle School administrators were approached on May 12 by multiple students who said they were touched inappropriately by Barry, Bassett Unified School District spokeswoman Nancy Yeang said. After interviewing the students, school leaders immediately put Barry on administrative leave, she said.
Administrators went to classrooms the same say to inform students Barry was put on leave, as well as to ask if any other students had experienced inappropriate conduct by the janitor, Yeang said. More students came forward with allegations.
Torch Middle School parents were later informed about the incident. Yeang said school officials were cooperating with the sheriff’s department during its investigation.
Barry was first arrested at the sheriff’s Industry station on June 13, but was released the next day without charges, according to Los Angeles County booking records.
Following his re-arrest on July 6, prosecutors filed nine criminal charges against him, according to court documents.
Barry pleaded not guilty the same day to five charges of felony child molestation of a victim under 14 years old, three misdemeanor counts of annoying or molesting a child under 18 and one count of contributing to the delinquency of the minor, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said. He’s scheduled to return to the Pomona branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court on Aug. 10 for a preliminary hearing setting.
In the meantime, Barry is being held in lieu of $1.545 million bail, booking records show.
If convicted as charged, Barry could face up to 75 years to life in state prison.

— Brian Day and Josh Cain

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Miramonte Elementary School teacher accused of inappropriately touching students

SOUTH EL MONTE >> A 54-year-old Miramonte Elementary School teacher was arrested Wednesday for allegedly inappropriately touching girls at the school.
The alleged incidents occurred in a classroom and on school grounds, according to Sgt. Amy Hanson of the Sheriff’s Special Victims Bureau. She didn’t clarify the number of students molested but described them as between 8 and 11 years old.
She said Joseph Baldenebro was arrested on suspicion of lewd or lascivious acts involving children and molesting children.
“He’s been a teacher at the school for the past 21 years,” Lt. Todd Deeds of the sheriff’s Special Victims Bureau said. The grades he teaches are 4th and 5th grades.”
Baldenebro was booked at the sheriff’s Temple Station on Wednesday morning. Deputies did not release a city of residence for him.
Detectives did not release the number of suspected victims or the time frame of the alleged crimes.
Miramonte Elementary School at 10620 Schmidt Road in South El Monte is in the Mountain View School District.
District officials were notified by the principal at Miramonte Elementary about an alleged incident between a teacher and a student, according to a statement from Superintendent Lillian Maldonado French.
She said district officials immediately contacted police and Baldenebro was placed on administrative leave.
“The district takes any allegation of misconduct of any kind very seriously,” Maldonado French said.
“Yesterday the district was informed that Mr. Baldenebro was arrested under the suspicion of lewd acts. The district has and will continue to fully cooperate with the sheriff’s investigation, and out of respect for judiciary due process and privacy laws, we cannot discuss any confidential details about personnel or students within the district.”
She said additional school counselors have been made available to any students who might have been affected by Baldenebro’s removal. She said while they are shaken by the allegations, the district trusts in the legal process and will have no further comment until that process has been completed.
Booking records show Baldenebro is being held at the Inmate Reception Center in Los Angeles on a bail of $404,000. He will be arraigned Friday at Pomona Superior Court.
Detectives believe there may be more possible victims of the longtime schoolteacher.
“We’re asking for the public help in identifying additional victims,” Deeds said. “If you have a child, or you went to Miramonte Elementary Shoool, and this gentleman was your teacher and you feel like something inappropriate happened, or criminal in nature, please contact the Special victims Bureau.
The sheriff’s Special Victims Bureau can be reached at 877-710-5273. Tips may also be submitted anonymously online to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

PHOTO courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

— Ruby Gonzales, Hayley E. Munguia, Brian Day

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Former Arroyo High School wrestling coach gets year in jail for sex with three underage students

POMONA >> A former part-time wrestling coach at Arroyo High School in El Monte who carried on sexual relationships with three underage students received a one-year jail term on Wednesday, authorities said.
David Vaca Jr., 21, of West Covina pleaded “no contest” earlier this month to one count of oral copulation of a person under 18 years old and one count of sexual penetration by a foreign object, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani.
During Vaca’s sentencing in the Pomona branch of Los Angeles County Superior court, Judge Salvatore Sirna suspended a 3-year, 8-month state prison term and ordered Vaca instead to serve 365 days in county jail, Ardalani said in a written statement. Vaca was additionally sentenced to five years of formal probation, ordered to attend 52 sexual compulsion classes, stay away from his victims for 10 years and register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Vaca was accused of carrying on sexual relationships with three female students at separate times between June of 2015 and January of 2017, Ardalani said.
He entered his “no contest” pleas under a negotiated plea arrangement, which included the suspended prison term.
Following his arrest on Feb. 1, Vaca initially faced 20 felony charges: Seven counts of oral copulation of a person under 18, six counts of unlawful sexual intercourse, six counts of penetration by a foreign object and one count of sodomy on a person under 16 years old.
Police first jailed Vaca after learning he had been involved in an inappropriate and illegal sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student of the school, El Monte police Sgt. Richard Luna said at the time.
As the investigation unfolded, police learned of two additional students victimized by Vaca, Luna said.

PHOTO of David Vaca courtesy of the El Monte Police Deparment

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Teacher at Catholic high school in Alhambra accused of sexual relationship with student

ALHAMBRA >> Police arrested a teacher at a Catholic all-girls high school on Wednesday on suspicion of carrying on a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student, officials said.
Diana Kelly Yniguez, also known as Diana Wendel, 42, of Azusa, was booked on suspicion of child molestation and contacting a minor for the purpose of committing sex crimes following her arrest about 2:30 p.m., according to Alhambra police officials and Los Angeles County booking records. She has been teaching at Ramona Convent Secondary School for the past three years, where the victim attended, and has taught at several parochial schools within the Los Angeles Archdiocese over the past 18 years.
The investigation began Tuesday after a relative of the alleged victim, a 17-year-old student at Ramona Convent Secondary School, found graphic text messages on the victim’s phone and alerted the girl’s father, police said in a written statement. The father turned the phone over to police.
“The investigation revealed the Yniguez had sent the text messages and had been involved in unlawful sexual contact with the minor,” according to the statement.
The alleged illegal relationship took place between March and May, officials said. No violence or threats are alleged on the part of Yniguez.
Yniguez has been placed on leave by the school pending the outcome of the investigation, Alhambra police Sgt. Steven Carr said.
Yniguez was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail pending her initial court appearance, scheduled Friday in the Alhambra branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court, booking records show.
Investigators had not learned of any additional victims, but encouraged anyone with information to contact the Alhambra Police Department’s Detective Bureau Tip Line at 626-308-4875. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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Irwindale pays $2.75 million settlement to girl molested by ex-police officer

IRWINDALE >> Irwindale paid a $2.75 million settlement on Thursday to a young woman who was molested as a teenager by an Irwindale police officer for more than a year while she served as a police Explorer Scout.
The civil suit stems from the conviction of former Irwindale police officer Daniel R. Camerano, who pleaded “no contest” in late-2014 to a series of sex crimes for his molestation of the then-14-year-old girl, identified in court documents as Jane Doe, between May of 2009 and December of 2010.
Camerano, who was also accused of sending sexually suggestive texts messages to another 17-year-old female Explorer Scout in 2012, was sentenced to two years and eight months in state prison and ordered to register as a sex offender for life.
The girl subsequently filed a lawsuit against the city and the police department. The settlement was reached shortly before trial was scheduled to begin,” according to the plaintiff’s Pasadena-based attorney, Anthony DeMarco. A settlement agreement was reached last month.
“The abuse of my client occurred because of a culture of acceptance of sexual abuse and harassment of girls and women that was allowed to persist in the Irwindale Police Department,” DeMarco said in a written statement. “She, like others, was forced to endure sexual abuse and harassment in silence or risk losing her dream of a career in law enforcement.”
The attorney further alleged that police officials failed to act after learning of the sexual abuse, which took place during “ride-alongs” with the officer, who served as an advisor to the Irwindale Police Department’s Explorer program.
“In the victim’s civil action against the City of Irwindale, evidence was uncovered that Police department officials were aware of complaints that Camerano was sexually abusing the underage female Explorer, but did not stop his access to and, thus, continued abuse of the girl.”
“She was being sexually molested in the station over and over,” DeMarco said. “The police station… It’s not big. They have cameras down every hallway. Folks knew what was going on. There was a culture of acceptance of this kind of behavior toward women, young women and girls that came into the department.”
Irwindale City Manager John Davidson and Irwindale Police Chief Anthony Miranda could not be reached for comment Friday. The city is closed for business on Fridays.
Prosecutors initially charged Camerano with six felony counts, which would have resulted in a maximum sentence of five years in prison if he had been convicted as charged.
But he took a plea deal, and pleaded “no contest” to counts of using a minor for sex acts, oral copulation of a person under 16 and contact with a minor for sexual offense.
During the coarse of the investigation into Camerano, “There were other girls, as well, that divulged abuse,” he said.
“One other civil lawsuit involving a victim of Camerano is currently pending and has a trial date in early 2018.”
Criminal cases have not been filed in connection with the other incidents of girls reporting abuse by Camerano.
“I’m not sure what the barometer was for why the (district attorney’s office) decided to prosecute on some and not on others,” DeMarco said.
The abuse suffered by Jane Doe continues to have lasting effects on the young woman, DeMarco said.
“It has, and will, have effects on almost all aspects of her life going forward,” he said. “But she’s a resilient person who I am sure will accomplish great things in life.”
The Irwindale Police Department ended it’s Explorer Program following Camerano’s arrest.
DeMarco said the abuse of his client was not an isolated incident, but rather a symptom of a police department out of control.
“As of September of 2014 there were 14 internal investigation complaints regarding the police department with less than 30 officers,” according to the attorney.
Former Irwindale police sergeant David Fraijo received a nine-year prison sentence in 2015 after pleading “no contest” to charges stemming from the sexual assault of a woman during a traffic stop on Oct. 20, 2012, near Azusa Canyon Road and Arrow Highway.
Fraijo had pulled over a woman as she was delivering newspapers, prosecutors said. When she said she did not have a driver license, he directed her to a parking lot where he attacked her.
He ultimately pleaded “no contest” to charges of oral copulation under color of authority and sexual battery by restraint.
Three additional charges of kidnapping to commit another crime, forcible oral copulation and assault under color of authority were dismissed under the negotiated plea arrangement.
If convicted of the crimes he was initially charged with , Fraijo could have faced a life sentence in prison.
DeMarco also pointed out two other civil lawsuits brought against department lieutenants for alleged sexual harassment of female personnel, including cadets and Explorer Scouts.
And in an off-duty incident, a former Irwindale police sergeant was sentenced to a year in jail in 2013 for stealing his father’s life savings of $250,000 in 2012.
The Explorer Scouts, run by the national organization Learning for Life and affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America, is a program in which young people are able to learn about law enforcement by observing police and working alongside them.
To help combat and prevent abuse of Explorer Scouts by authority figures, DeMarco said he would like to see existing voluntary policies laid out by Learning for Life intended to prevent such abuse be made mandatory.
Any time young people are allowed to be one-on-one with adults, without supervision, “You’re asking for problems,” he said.
“More needs to be done,” DeMarco said. “Looking to have careers in law enforcement is an admirable thing, and it should be fostered. But it shouldn’t come at a heightened risk of sexual abuse.”

PHOTO: Irwindale Police Officer Daniel Camerano at the scene where he and another officer saved a father, son and dog from and arson-set fire September 29, 2010 in Irwindale, Calif. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Keith Birmingham/SVCITY)

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Whittier man accused of molesting boy at Arcadia gym

ARCADIA >> Police jailed a Whittier man Monday on suspicion of molesting a boy in the shower of an Arcadia gym, officials said.
The incident was reported just before 10:40 a.m. on March 20 at 24 Hour Fitness, 125 N. First Ave., according to Arcadia Police Department logs.
Police said the man first initiated a “sexually suggestive conversation” while in the spa with the boy.
“When the victim left to take a shower, the suspect followed him and groped him,” according to the log.
Police found and arrested Rodolfo Delgadill Cruz, 47, of Whittier on suspicion of child molestation, according to Arcadia police spokesman Tom LeVeque and Los Angeles County booking records.
Cruz pleaded not guilty to a charge of committing a lewd or lascivious act on a child under 14 years old on March 23 and is scheduled to return to the Pasadena branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court for a preliminary hearing setting on April 20, court records show.
In the meantime, he was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail at the Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles.

PHOTO: Rodolfo D. Cruz, 47l, of Whittier, (Courtesy)

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Ex-San Gabriel Mission High School staffer who absconded with teenage student sentenced to prison in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA >> A former San Gabriel Mission High School athletic director received a sentence of at least two years in prison this week for absconding to Nevada with a 15-year-old then-student, officials said.
Juan Barajas, 37, received a sentence of 24 month to 72 months in state prison during his sentencing hearing on Tuesday in the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas, according to Clark County Deputy District Attorney Alexander Chen. Barajas must serve a minimum of 24 months behind bars before becoming eligible for parole, he explained. The maximum amount of time he will spend behind bars in Nevada is six years.
Additionally, Barajas will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, Chen said.
Police found Barajas with the teenage Pico Rivera girl and arrested him on Aug. 2 in Henderson, Nevada, officials said.
The man and girl had been missing since July 29, when they fled after the girl’s family learned of their inappropriate and illegal relationship. The girl had been a student at the school, a private Catholic high school operated by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
A Henderson police officer spotted Barajas and the girl hours after Los Angeles Police, who handled the investigation, asked the public for help in finding the missing teen and suspect.
He pleaded guilty in November to a single count of statutory sexual seduction,
Following his arrest, prosecutors initially charged Barajas with first-degree kidnapping, sexual assault of a minor under 16, lewdness with a minor under 16, statutory sexual seduction and committing a sex act in public, authorities said. If convicted as charged, could have faced between 20 and 50 years in state prison.

PHOTO of Juan Barajas (courtesy)

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