SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—Santa Cruz Police on Tuesday arrested a Watsonville man after he allegedly traveled to the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf to meet who he thought was an underage girl for sex.
Valentin Rodriguez, 62, was charged with meeting a minor for lewd purposes. He was booked into Santa Cruz County Jail, but was non in custody on Thursday.
Rodriguez teaches diesel mechanics at Hartnell College in Salinas.
According to Santa Cruz Police spokeswoman Joyce Blaschke, the 14-year-old girl Rodriguez thought he was meeting was an “independent, non-sworn investigator” that was live-streaming a “sting” operation.
Rodriguez reportedly exchanged several inappropriate messages online with the decoy, Blaschke said.
The California-based group that set up the sting is called CC Unit (creep catchers), which on its website says it is dedicated to catching and exposing online predators. Members pose as underage children online, and then confronts and records the people who agree to meet them.
Founded in 2018, the San Diego-based group says it has so far caught 240 people, 25 of whom have been arrested.
Blaschke says that an SCPD officer asked a CC Unit member to send a text message to Rodriguez, which made his cell phone buzz.
“The reporting party produced compelling evidence for probable cause to arrest the suspect Valentin Rodriguez for arranging to meet with a person assumed to be a juvenile with the intent to engage in sex and lewd acts,” Blaschke stated in a press release.
Detectives have obtained warrants for Rodriguez’s home, vehicle and electronic devices.
The investigation is ongoing. It is not yet known if there are actual underage victims.
Blaschke says that police do not recommend that citizens conduct sting operations, in order to protect the integrity of the investigation. She added that confronting suspects could be dangerous.