SANTA CRUZ — A Watsonville man who planned last year to meet up with a minor for sex at the Santa Cruz wharf pleaded no contest Friday to a felony charge.
Valentin Rodriguez, 63, who worked as a Hartnell College instructor in the school’s Automotive Technology Department at the time of his arrest, is not expected to face jail time, Assistant District Attorney Nick Sympson said after the hearing. While Sympson’s office did not strike any plea deals with Rodriguez prior to the plea, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Denine Guy indicated during an in-chambers discussion that she likely would sentence him to a probation term, Sympson said. State statute calls for as much as a four-year prison term for a conviction on the charge.
Rodriguez, in June 2022, agreed via back-and-forth messages to meet up with a 14-year-old girl at the Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz police said at the time. In reality, an anonymous San Diego-based YouTube live-stream investigator who goes by the name “Ghost,” who was impersonating the child, had set Rodriguez up as part of an ongoing sting effort to catch adult sexual predators. Ghost filmed his interaction with Rodriguez while confronting him, prior to police arrival. He later turned over evidence for police review.
Prior to the meeting, Rodriguez had “exchanged multiple inappropriate messages and photographs and eventually solicited what he thought was a teenage girl to meet him in the city of Santa Cruz to have sex,” Santa Cruz police wrote in a media release at the time.
The civilian investigator and activist is behind the online site CC Unit or “Creep Catching Unit.” The California-centric site’s organizers aim to “help protect minors from online predators both by catching these predators, and raising community awareness around the issue in hopes of toughening laws and legislation.”
Ghost told the Sentinel last year that he had been inspired by “To Catch a Predator,” a Dateline NBC news magazine series with a similar premise that aired through 2007.
Rodriguez is scheduled to return to court next on Aug. 25.
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