Petaluma man faces child sex charges

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A Petaluma man was arrested in November on allegations that he performed sex acts on at least two children at an unlicensed daycare operating in his home since 2008, according to court documents.

Pedro Erasmo Diaz Ibanez, 45, has been charged with three counts of engaging in sexual intercourse or sodomy with a child under 10 years old, and five counts of committing lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 14.

Petaluma Police officials said the parents of one of the two victims notified the department of the molestation in early 2018, triggering an investigation that resulted in an arrest warrant and search warrant of Ibanez’s residence at the Washington Creek Apartments, a complex in the 900 block of Martin Circle.

Ibanez was arrested on Nov. 30 and remains in custody at Sonoma County Jail, with bail set at more than $1 million, according to his attorney, Kristine Burk.

Police officials were initially reluctant to publicize the arrest, citing the ongoing investigation and efforts to gain cooperation from additional victims — some of whom come from undocumented families and might be reluctant to come forward, police said.

After serving the search warrant, detectives recovered additional items of evidence and are in the process of analyzing it, said Petaluma Police Lt. Tim Lyons.

Law enforcement officials believe the daycare center has been operating for more than 10 years.

“This is a very sad and troubling crime,” Lyons said. “You’re taking your kid to daycare, trusting them with a daycare person, and they become victimized. But we’re trying to identify more victims and get treatment and victim resources to those that may have attended.”

Burk, a veteran attorney and former Sonoma County public defender, contested the charges against her client, and she plans to enter not guilty pleas at the next scheduled hearing on Thursday morning.

“These accusations are not true,” Burk said. “Pedro Ibanez did not do the very serious and horrible things that he is accused of doing. There is much work to be done to challenge the charges. My client, his family, friends and I believe that the truth will prevail.”

If Ibanez is found guilty of any of the sodomy charges, he could face a maximum sentence of life in a state prison.

The daycare center was run by Ibanez’s wife, Yemenia Diaz Ibanez, Lyons said. Detectives are attempting to earn her cooperation in order to identify more victims, although no charges against her are being pursued at this time.

Burk disputed that it was a daycare center as police have described, but rather an “informal arrangement” to babysit for friends and neighbors, she said.

Police have reported the daycare to the Child Care Licensing Program at the California Department of Social Services.

According to court documents, two female victims identified as Jane Does No. 1 and No. 2, were interviewed separately at the Redwood Children’s Center in Santa Rosa in March and November of last year.

Any questioning that’s done at the RCC is handled by a trained forensic interviewer, and is monitored and recorded by a detective, sexual assault prosecutor and social worker, county officials said.

This method is designed to reduce the number of times a child is questioned and often results in the resolution of a criminal case without the child having to appear in court.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch said her office vigorously pursues abuse cases involving minors.

“We always look for a sentence that is appropriate to the case,” Ravitch said. “If the charges we log are true, and the charges involve the sexual assault of a child, we’re pretty aggressive.”

Petaluma Police are requesting anyone with information or who may have been a victim to call Detective Walt Spiller at 707-778-4372, or Victim Advocate Georgia Tello Bugarin at 707-778-4533.

The police department offers support and medical services, and has English and Spanish resources available to answer questions.

Editor’s note: A previous version of the story incorrectly identified Pedro Ibanez as an employee at the unlicensed daycare. Ibanez had a full-time job away from the home, according to his attorney. His spouse, Yemenia Ibanez, was the only caregiver.

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)

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