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Ray Valenzuela pleads guilty

August 25, 2004|By MICHAEL A. SALORIO, Staff Writer

After having initially denied charges of committing lewd and lascivious sexual acts over a three-year period with a now 18-year-old male and his trial on the verge of beginning, Imperial police Sgt. Ray Valenzuela pleaded guilty to a single count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor for sexual gratification.

Valenzuela entered his plea during a hearing Tuesday afternoon in the county jail court, thus avoiding a potential three-year state prison sentence if he had been convicted. As part of a plea agreement, Valenzuela was sentenced to three years of summary probation, must register as a sex offender and must resign from the Imperial Police Department. He is not required to go to counseling as part of the plea agreement.

Assistant District Attorney Joe Beard, who prosecuted the case, said avoiding putting the victim through the further trauma of having to testify was a key factor in agreeing to the plea agreement.

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"People will have their opinion, but it's not easy for the victim to describe what happened to perfect strangers. It wasn't easy for him to describe it to law enforcement, let alone describe it and be stigmatized by the public. … The victim was a very courageous young man for stepping forward and describing the fondling that occurred over three years," said Beard.

According to Beard, Valenzuela would not have agreed to the plea agreement had the prosecution not been able to prove the allegations against him beyond a reasonable doubt. When asked if the prosecution would have been able to prove its case against Valenzuela, Beard responded, "Without a doubt."

Valenzuela's defense attorney, Everett Bobbitt of San Diego, had earlier characterized the case as a "he said, he said." However, a taped recording of a telephone conversation recorded by state Department of Justice agents on Jan. 27 indicated otherwise.

The recording was played during an April preliminary, where DOJ special agent John Moreno testified the recorded conversation took place between the victim and Valenzuela. The voices on the tape can be heard discussing the "things" that happened between the two, but those things are never identified on the recording.

Valenzuela can be heard at one point saying to the victim, "I hope you understand this is my career." Valenzuela also calls what occurred between himself and the victim "stupid," and says he has started going to church to ask for forgiveness.

According to Moreno's testimony, the victim said the first instance of sexual abuse occurred sometime in late June or early July 2001, when Valenzuela touched the victim's pubic area and penis. The victim was 14 years old at the time of the incident.

Moreno also said the victim reported an instance when Valenzuela masturbated in front of him and that Valenzuela continued to touch him, as often as three times a week, until the touching stopped sometime between February and August 2003.

The now 18-year-old victim, who at the at the time of the incidents was a member of the Imperial police Explorers program run by Valenzuela, reported the sexual abuse to the Imperial Police Department two weeks before Valenzuela's arrest on Jan. 28. The victim was 17 years old when he reported the abuse.

Valenzuela had been on paid administrative leave from the Police Department since his arrest. Attempts to contact interim Imperial Police Chief Joe Bielma and Imperial City Manager Vince Long were unsuccessful. Bielma and Long were reportedly in a meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

According to information posted on the IPD's Web site in January, Valenzuela was the department's child abuse/sexual assault investigator.

>> Staff Writer Michael A. Salorio can be reached at 337-3441 or msalorio@ivpressonline.com

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