Carlos Ruano, a Montecito church employee on trial last month for allegedly molesting his step-granddaughter, pleaded guilty Friday to felony false imprisonment. His trial had ended in a hung jury.
Based on the evidence and the wishes of the girl and her family, the District Attorney’s Office said it opted for the new false imprisonment charge — meaning that Ruano didn’t allow the girl, seven years old at the time, to move during the incident — instead of starting the process of a retrial. As part of his sentence, Ruano will receive credit for time served — 397 days in Santa Barbara County Jail, said Deputy District Attorney Benjamin Ladinig, who handled the case — so will not face any additional jail time. He will also not have to register as a sex offender.
However, Ruano is currently under an Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) hold at the jail, and ICE agents will have two days after the last day of Ruano’s sentence to pick him up, said Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman, Kelly Hoover. That 48-hour window will begin November 15 when Ruano is formally sentenced. Ruano was technically released on his own recognizance following his plea, said his attorney, Jeremy Lessem, but is being held because of his immigration status. Pending any action by ICE, Ruano, 67, faces three years of felony probation and will be prohibited from contacting the victim and her family.
“I would like to commend the Santa Barbara Police Department for their hard work on this case, and I also note the bravery and perseverance of the child victim and her family throughout the process,” Ladinig said. Lessem added that Ruano “made the decision he felt was the right decision for him to make, for him and his family.”
Ruano, who worked as a sexton at All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church for more than seven years, was originally charged with felony molestation for a 2012 incident with his step-granddaughter at his home. He would later tell detectives that he was babysitting three kids, including his step-granddaughter, when the girl’s brother jumped on her, injuring her stomach. Ruano said he rubbed ointment on her stomach and may have accidentally touched her underwear near her vagina.
The girl said he went further than that, rubbing beneath her underwear, licking her breast, and exposing his penis. Ruano countered that the girl’s mother coerced her into making those accusations. Throughout the trial, which resulted in a 9-3 hung jury in favor of guilt, Ruano received support from the church and members of its congregation. If he had been convicted of the original charge, he would have faced up to eight years in prison, Ladinig said.