MARTINEZ -- A former Lesher Center for the Arts employee pleaded guilty Wednesday to two child sex charges and will spend 90 days in jail, the latest chapter in a case that scandalized the Contra Costa theater community and Walnut Creek City Hall.
Jason Pedroza, 27, pleaded guilty to a felony count using minors to engage in child pornography and misdemeanor child molestation. As part of his plea deal, the former actor and theater teacher will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, fulfill three years probation, abide by a 10-year stay-away order from his three victims and still may face additional charges from a San Mateo County case involving a minor.
On Wednesday, Pedroza, dressed in a suit, sat and listened to the two girls most directly impacted by his actions describe how Pedroza's abuse had devastated their lives and how the acting community they once embraced had turned on them and made them outcasts.
One of them said that after she came forward against her instructor, the theater community took the "blame-the-victim mentality." Former friends and colleagues spread rumors, refused to make eye contact and "treated me like I had some type of plague," she said.
Pedroza's case led to a Walnut Creek internal child abuse "mandated reporting" investigation. The probe examined whether city employees followed state law by reporting suspected child abuse to police after firing Pedroza when they learned of his inappropriate contact with teenage girls. Four employees were placed on leave until the investigation was complete and eventually returned when the internal probe found that overall they acted appropriately. The human resources director has since retired.
It also revealed the city manager and others knew as much about the situation as those placed on leave. Pressure over the internal investigation led the city attorney to resign and caused friction among council members and City Hall.
The other Pedroza victim in court Wednesday, Jane Doe 2, speaking fast and crying as she read her statement, said she had trusted Pedroza as her teacher and still feels "incredibly guilty."
"I don't really trust anyone," she said. "I was paranoid, anxious and I hated myself.
"No matter how many times people tell me I didn't do anything wrong, it doesn't matter unless you believe it yourself," she said.
She told Pedroza -- who has been out on bail since his February arrest and will not be formally sentenced until Oct. 11 -- "I hope you're made to live with it."
As he was leaving court, Pedroza's attorney said he did not have a comment.
As part of Pedroza's plea deal, Contra Costa prosecutors agreed not to prosecute him for a San Mateo County case involving a minor, deputy district attorney Chad Mahalich said. That case was from a supplemental investigation by Walnut Creek police. The San Mateo district attorney said his office has not received the case; a call to Walnut Creek police for this story was not immediately returned.
"I do think it was the right resolution, given everything," Mahalich said outside court. "It was a tribute to the courage of the victims to have the bravery to stand up and say what's wrong. Now, hopefully, they are able to move forward and continue school and hopefully start to put this behind them."
Inside the Martinez courtroom, the first victim told Judge William Kolin she felt "hopelessly trapped" in a "situation where 'no' didn't seem like an option."
"I felt worthless and completely alone," she said. "The truth is, I don't know whether it was worth it yet," she said. But she had been living in the "dark" for so long she's "ready for light to shine through."
"Jason may have made me a victim," she said, "but I refuse to be one any more."
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.