News of a criminal sex tourism case in Orange County spread quickly around the nation earlier this month. Rejecting Robert Ruben Ornelas’ argument that political hysteria has made pedophilia and child pornography possession worse than murder, U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney issued a sentence of 2,280 months, or 190 years, in prison. Federal prosecutors, who called the crimes committed against Filipino children “heinous,” successfully sought the maximum possible punishment for the 66-year-old Ornelas.
But mainstream media reports missed a key component of the story. Ornelas’ multi-year crime spree in the Philippines wasn’t a solo act. According to law enforcement investigation records, the retired Santa Ana Unified School District teacher and community softball team coach won assistance from a surprising source: a woman identified as “Josephine P,” who “facilitated” illicit access to her own two daughters, her younger sister, two nieces and three neighbors’ kids.
For example, internet chat logs recovered from Ornelas’ home computer show him asking Josephine, a resident of an island in the central Philippines, to take nude photographs of her elementary school-aged daughter.
“Oh, yes, I can,” she replied during a 2007 Yahoo webcam conversation.
“Make a history as she begins to grow and develops,” Ornelas ordered.
The then-25-year-old Josephine said, “Yes, I will. She is really very beautiful, Robert.”
Before discussing oral sex he’d performed on the girl during a visit, he added, “I now [sic] her butt is perfect now and getting better too.”
The woman answered, “And have a sexy body.”
In another chat, Ornelas asked Josephine to send him “full nude” and “topless” images of her nine-year-old niece and a 10-year-old neighbor’s child.
Other chats show the woman pressing for the wire transfer of money and the Orange County man, who’d pretended to be a wealthy attorney, negotiating payments based on receiving new photographs of the girls and the willingness of making them “our sex slaves.”
“Robert, I hope that you can send some money so [that I can pay family expenses],” she wrote.
“You already know my answer,” he replied. “You promised me pics and no pics, so no money.”
In a follow-up exchange, he thanked her for sending additional images and rejected her request for “1,000,” presumably $1,000, before precisely describing how he wanted the girls posed in future pictures.
He sent $100 in Jan. 2007, but later increased monthly payments to $120.
An FBI report reveals he took at least four vacations to the Philippines, where he’d stayed at both Josephine’s house as well as rented rooms at the Maqueda Bay Hotel in Catbalogan for sex parties and the shooting of child porn.
He told the youngsters, whose faces showed distress in the films, that their activities were okay because they were dating.
During a 2013 meeting with a special agent, Josephine first denied trading access for cash, but when confronted with documentation of the chatroom conversations “she stated she lied because she was afraid . . . Later in the interview, [she] stated Ornelas threatened to stop sending money if she did not comply with his requests for nude images of the children.”
That same FBI report added the mother “admitted that while chatting with Ornelas online, he would ask to have the children do sexual things such as oral sex on each other.”
From 2006 to 2013, he used Western Union 522 times to send money—usually in $120 batches—to Josephine, her sister and their neighbors.
Ornelas sought sentencing leniency from Carney at a late Feb. hearing inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse because he refused to accept a jury’s guilty verdicts, argued a 190-year sentence is “unreasonable” and “nonsensical,” and declared himself unsuitable for prison because he would be “prey” for younger inmates.
Noting her belief that his victims included Orange County girls over a period of three decades, Assistant United States Attorney Anne C. Gannon wasn’t sympathetic.
“In reality, the defendant’s total offense level [under federal sentencing guidelines] is a direct reflection of the heinous criminal conduct that he committed against children,” Gannon told the judge.
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.