Carlos Ruano, a Montecito church employee whose trial in September for molesting his step-granddaughter ended in a 9-3 hung jury in favor of guilt, was sentenced Friday according to a plea deal he later struck with the District Attorney’s Office. Under the deal — in which Ruano pleaded guilty to felony false imprisonment, meaning that he didn’t allow the girl to move during the alleged incident — Ruano was sentenced to three years of felony probation. He will be prohibited from contacting the girl but will not have to register as a sex offender.
Ruano received credit for time served and was released on his own recognizance, but on October 18, when Ruano entered his plea, he was under an Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) hold at the Santa Barbara County Jail. At the time, Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said that ICE agents would have 48 hours after Ruano’s sentencing to pick him up. As of today, however, Ruano’s immigration status remains unclear. His attorney, Jeremy Lessem, said that Ruano’s hold was lifted and Hoover said that, as of this afternoon, Ruano wasn’t in County Jail custody. ICE officials said more information on Ruano’s immigration status may be released early next week.
As had been the case throughout his trial, Ruano, 67, was supported during Friday’s hearing by members of the All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, where he worked for more than seven years as a sexton. Lessem said that with cases of this type, “usually you see friends and family run the other way” and that such support “says a lot about Carlos.” Accepting the plea agreement, Lessem continued, was “the smart thing” for Ruano to do for himself and his family. Once Ruano’s ICE status is settled and his probation is completed, Lessem said he may petition to have Ruano’s felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor and/or have the case expunged from his record.
Deputy District Attorney Benjamin Ladinig, who handled the case, said that the District Attorney’s office opted to go with the plea deal instead of a retrial because of the evidence and to spare the girl and her family. “All things considered, I think the outcome, while not perfect, was something we could live with,” Ladinig said.
Ruano’s original charge of felony molestation stemmed from an incident at his home last year. He told police that while he had been babysitting three children — including his step-granddaughter, who was seven years old at the time — the girl’s brother jumped on her, hurting her stomach in the process. While Ruano said that he rubbed ointment on the girl’s stomach and may have accidentally touched her underwear near her vagina, a further claim by the girl — which was deemed by Ruano and his supporters as something she was coerced into saying by her mother — included accusations that Ruano rubbed beneath her underwear, licked her chest, and exposed his penis. If he had been convicted of the original charge, a felony, Ruano would have faced up to eight years in prison, Ladinig said.