A former Sonora resident and Tuolumne County Sheriff’s search-and-rescue volunteer was sentenced Monday to 14 years, two months in federal prison after pleading guilty last year to receiving and distributing child pornography.
Jonathan James Rodriguez, 40, will also have to serve 15 years on supervised release after completing his prison sentence, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced in a news release Monday.
The release stated that Rodriguez was found to have received and/or distributed on a laptop computer more than 500 video files depicting minors, including some as young as infants and toddlers, suffering various acts of sexual abuse.
Rodriguez was initially arrested Jan. 16, 2020, and booked into Tuolumne County Jail after a month-long investigation by Tuolumne County Sheriff’s investigators, who said they received a tip from the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Sheriff’s booking logs showed Rodriguez was living on the 14600 block of Stone Lane in Sonora when he was first arrested.
Local authorities didn’t know all of what was on Rodriguez’s computer at the time and forwarded the case to the FBI, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California previously told The Union Democrat.
Rodriguez was released from Tuolumne County Jail at some point before a federal grand jury returned an indictment against him on July 30, 2020, charging him with a single count of receiving and distributing material involving the sexual exploitation of minors. He was arrested again on Aug. 3, 2020, at a place where he was living in Modesto and was arraigned in federal court the following day.
The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office confirmed after Rodriguez’s second arrest that he had previously served as a volunteer with the agency’s search-and-rescue team, though he was last active some years prior to his arrest.
Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California, stated that Rodriguez accepted a plea agreement on Aug. 19 last year.
Court documents filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Feb. 15 in support of his recommended sentence against Rodriguez stated that the collection of child pornography on his computer included “many hundreds of videos of children” that he had collected over the span of several years.
Rodriguez had also engaged in sexually explicit online exchanges through Discord with someone who represented herself as a 12-year-old girl, according to the documents.
“In short, Rodriguez’s actions reveal him as committing acts far beyond that of a passive collector, but instead as a clear and present danger to children,” the documents stated.
Court documents filed by Rodriguez’s Fresno-based attorney, Harry M. Drandell, argued in favor of a lighter sentence than what had been recommended and cited Rodriguez’s career in public safety spanning nearly 20 years for a number of agencies and organizations in Tuolumne County.
According to the documents, some of the accolades that Rodriguez received over the years included “Volunteer Rescuer of the Year” in 2011 from the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team; “Volunteer Firefighter of the Year” in 2019 from the Tuolumne Fire District; the “Outstanding Citizen Award” in 2014 from the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office; and a commendation from the California Office of Emergency Services in 2013.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office stated in the news release about Rodriguez’s sentencing on Monday that the case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.