Watsonville man caught up in child predator decoy sting sentenced to probation – Santa Cruz Sentinel | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

SANTA CRUZ — A 63-year-old former Hartnell College instructor was sentenced Thursday to two years probation after pleading guilty to the court in June.

Valentin Rodriguez appeared before Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Denine Guy by video from bed at his Watsonville home, according to his attorney.

Rodriguez, who is now in an advanced stage of renal failure and awaiting a transplant, according to defense attorney Gary Thelander, agreed to meet a 14-year-old girl with whom he had been exchanging electronic messages and images at the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf on June 7, 2022.

Instead of the girl, however, Rodriguez was confronted by an anonymous San Diego-based livestream activist who went by the name “Ghost.” The activist is among a group that operates the CC Unit or “Creep Catching Unit” website, whose members use decoys posed as underage minors and post recordings of sting efforts designed to catch adult sexual predators. The group’s YouTube account has since been suspended for violating YouTube policy.

Salinas-based Hartnell College and Rodriguez, who taught in the Automotive Technology Department, severed ties as of Aug. 2, 2022, according to school spokesperson Richard Morales.

Earlier this year, Guy indicated plans to suspend Rodriguez’s jail time after he made an open plea to the court for a single charge of felony meeting a minor for lewd purposes. Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney Nick Sympson disagreed with the decision, arguing Thursday afternoon that Rodriguez’s was “a really pretty aggravated case.”

“I think the best thing that Mr. Rodriguez had going for him in this case is ultimately that there was no actual child involved,” Sympson said.

Rodriguez reportedly texted with the decoy, offering to do things like take the girl for ice cream, pizza or to the movies, “things like you would, frankly, with a 14-year-old,” Sympson said. In addition to discussions of “a more romantic nature,” Rodriguez also reportedly expressed concern about whether the decoy’s mom would be OK with her spending the night away from home and had the key to an area hotel in his pocket and “an excessive amount of contraception” in the trunk of his vehicle, Sympson said.

Sympson added that he was disappointed in remarks Rodriguez made to the Santa Cruz County Probation Department, per his presentence report. Rodriguez said he thought he was speaking to an adult bartender from Monterey, not a child, based on past alleged texts with the same number. Per evidence turned over by “Ghost,” the two had spoken the previous year when the decoy represented themselves as a 12-year-old girl, Sympson said.

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