Jonathan Rodriguez

Jonathan James Rodriguez

A former Tuolumne County sheriff’s search-and-rescue volunteer was arraigned a week ago in federal court in Fresno on suspicion of receiving and distributing child pornography, a federal prosecutor said.

Jonathan James Rodriguez, 37, of Sonora, is accused of using a laptop computer to receive and distribute a visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct between January 2014 and January 2020, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced in a press release dated Aug. 5.

Rodriguez was initially arrested in Sonora on Jan. 16 by Tuolumne County Sheriff’s deputies in and booked into the county jail on suspicion of charges relating to possession of child pornography.

Lauren Horwood, spokeswoman for Scott’s office, said that the local authorities didn’t know all of what was on Rodrgiuez’s computer at the time and forwarded the case to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Horwood said that Rodriguez was released from the county jail at some point before an indictment was filed by federal prosecutors on July 30. 

Rodriguez was arrested again on Aug. 3 at a place where he was living in Modesto and arraigned in federal court the following day, according to Horwood, who also said he was released on his own recognizance on Aug. 6.

If convicted, Rodriguez faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison. The charges against Rodriguez are allegations. Rodriguez is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, Scott’s staff said.

The case against Rodriguez has been investigated by the FBI and the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office, Scott’s staff in Fresno said. The federal prosecutor on the case is Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura D. Withers.

Deputy Niccoli Sandelin with the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that Rodriguez had previously served as a volunteer for the search-and-rescue team prior to his arrest, but he didn’t have the exact dates. 

Sandelin said it was a few years before Rodriguez was arrested when Rodriguez was last an active volunteer.

“It's been awhile,” he said.

Sandelin said the Sheriff’s Office was working on the case with the FBI before the federal agency took over the case.

“Their resources and investigation capabilities obviously extend beyond ours,” Sandelin said.

Rodriguez has a status conference scheduled at 1 p.m. Nov. 16 in Courtroom 7 at Robert E. Coyle United States Courthouse in Fresno before Magistrate Judge Sheila K. Oberto.

The court-appointed attorney for Rodriguez, Harry Drandell of Fresno, could not be reached for comment.

The investigation and case against Rodriguez are part of a federal Department of Justice program intended to crack down on a growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse nationwide. 

The goal is to have federal prosecutors and their criminal division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section staff coordinate with state and local law enforcement to find, arrest and prosecute people who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims.

Prosecutors are seeking more information from the public for their investigation. Anyone who has more information believes they may be a victim is urged to contact Federal Bureau of Investigation staff at JonRVictims@fbi.gov.

Alex MacLean contributed to this report.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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