Sex offender released by L.A. County judge is arrested in 3 new cases involving boys

A registered sex offender who was set free by a Los Angeles County judge in 2018 because of a 17-year delay in his trial has now been arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing three children in Tulare County, records show.

Jorge Vasquez, 48, was arrested by Porterville Police Sunday on suspicion of committing a lewd act upon a child and sexual penetration with a foreign object, jail records show.

Vasquez had been in either prison or a state hospital since 1995, when he pleaded no contest to multiple counts of child molestation, court records show. He allegedly lured several children between the ages of 6 and 8 to an alleyway in South L.A. with the promise of candy, where he performed oral sex on three of the boys and forced one to perform oral sex on him, court records show.

He was sentenced to 12 years in prison. But in 2000, L.A. County prosecutors sought to have him committed to a state hospital under California’s sexually violent predator act. The law — which was drafted in response to complaints about supposedly short sentences for sex offenders — allows prosecutors to seek to have defendants committed to treatment for an indeterminate amount of time if they have been convicted of a serious or violent sex offense, suffer from a mental illness and are highly likely to reoffend.

But Vasquez never received a trial date. Over the course of 17 years, five different public defenders rotated on and off his case, each asking to push back the trial so they could review the voluminous discovery in the case. L.A. County Superior Court Judge James Bianco disqualified the public defender’s office from the case in late 2017, and early the next year, he granted a motion to dismiss the case against Vasquez, ruling his constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated.

“There was a systemic breakdown of the public defender system,” Bianco said at the time.

Public defenders involved in the case shared Bianco’s frustrations. In a 2014 hearing, Deputy Public Defender Terry Shenkman told the court the public defender’s office had slashed the number of attorneys working on cases involving sexually violent predators in half. In 2016, Deputy Public Defender David Santiago told Bianco he did not “think Mr. Vasquez is being treated fairly by my office either,” according to a motion to dismiss the charges against Vasquez.

Concerns about overburdened public defenders resurfaced last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused a massive backlog in the county’s court systems. At least a dozen public defenders told The Times their workloads had doubled, and in some cases tripled, with some expressing fear they could not competently represent their clients.

Attempts to contact Bianco on Tuesday morning were not successful, and a court spokeswoman could not immediately provide a comment. Judith Green, a spokeswoman for the L.A. County public defender’s office, declined to comment.

L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Ceballos, who was assigned to the case when Vasquez’s attorneys filed their motion to dismiss in 2016, had previously complained to Bianco that he believed Vasquez would reoffend and said he was extremely frustrated to learn of Vasquez’s arrest in three new cases involving alleged child abuse.

“This is every prosecutor’s worst nightmare,” Ceballos said. “You work hard to keep someone in custody … when [the Tulare County district attorney’s office] called me, I was just sick to my stomach.”

Vasquez is scheduled to appear in court in Tulare County on Tuesday, according to jail records. Prosecutors there have yet to file a criminal complaint but are expected to do so soon. The alleged victims in the Tulare County case are all preteen boys, according to Ceballos, who said he was notified of Vasquez’s arrest by Tulare County law enforcement officials.

A Porterville police spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Vasquez had been diagnosed with a learning disability from age 8 and may have also suffered a neurological injury during birth, according to the 2017 motion to dismiss charges against him in L.A. County.

While court records show one state psychologist did rule Vasquez ceased to meet the definition of a sexually violent predator under California law, Ceballos said several others filed reports stating he was at a high risk to reoffend.

Ceballos said Vasquez’s release, and alleged re-offense, were the result of a breakdown across the entire court system.

“I did talk to one of the deputy public defenders about the case, and they have equal frustrations with their higher-ups too,” he said. “They were constantly asking for assistance, and no one was getting it. No one was placing a high priority on these cases.”

Times staff writer Marisa Gerber contributed to this report.

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