Carlos Ruano, a Montecito church employee who stood trial in September for molesting his step-granddaughter but later pleaded guilty to false imprisonment, was taken into custody after his sentencing Friday by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) officers.
Ruano, according to ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley, is a Guatemalan citizen and was previously deported from the United States in 1998. “ICE will seek to reinstate his prior deportation order and remove him from the country,” Haley said. “ICE is focused on sensible, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes efforts first on individuals who present the greatest risk to our communities.”
Haley said that there was no timetable for Ruano’s possible deportation. Jeremy Lessem, Ruano’s attorney, said that ICE’s deportation recommendation will ultimately be decided by an immigration judge. Lessem added that his client came to the country legally on a work permit — which he said may have lapsed — and that Ruano’s plea deal took his immigration status into account. “That was considered in part of the plea negotiation,” said Deputy District Attorney Benjamin Ladinig, who handled the case. A felony false imprisonment conviction, Lessem and Ladinig said, would be less problematic in immigration court than a felony molestation conviction.
For more than seven years, Ruano, 67, worked as a sexton at All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, whose members supported him throughout his trial and at his sentencing on Friday. Ruano was originally charged with molestation after his step-granddaughter, then seven years old, claimed that he rubbed beneath her underwear, licked her chest, and exposed himself. Ruano maintained that he only may have touched her underwear while applying ointment to her stomach, and that the girl made the other claims after being coerced by her mother.
Ruano struck a deal in October with the District Attorney’s Office after his trial ended in a 9-3 hung jury in favor of guilt. Pending his immigration status, Ruano will serve three years of felony probation and will not be allowed to contact the girl.