Appellate Justices Amend Sex Entrapment Ruling Against Huntington Beach Police

Categories: Court, Crime-iny

HBPD sex sting troubled justices inside the California Court of Appeal in Santa Ana
A California Court of Appeal that last month rebuked a Huntington Beach Police Department (HBPD) sting operation targeting adults in pursuit of minors for sex on Craigslist has refused a California Attorney General's office request to reconsider its decision, but nonetheless softened it stance in the case.

The June 10 opinion overturned the 2011 convictions of Venson Villapando for attempted lewd conduct with a 13-year-old girl, who was in fact a decoy persona created by undercover, HBPD police officers.

A three justice panel concluded that there was "substantial evidence" of entrapment and that Superior Court Judge Gregg L. Prickett, a former prosecutor appointed to the bench in 1995 by then-Gov. Pete Wilson, denied the defendant justice by failing to allow the jury to even consider entrapment as a defense.

The appellate panel--Richard Fybel, Raymond Ikola and David A. Thompson--ordered a new trial for Villapando, who unwittingly communicated in text messages and emails with the decoy from July to December 2009.

Just before Christmas that year, the Brea resident drove to a Huntington Beach Carl's Jr. to meet the girl.

She promised intercourse in exchange for $100 she claimed she needed to pay her cell phone bills.

But Villapando changed his mind in the fast food restaurant's parking lot before entering the establishment to meet the girl, and was immediately surrounded by cops as he attempted to drive away.

Without explaining their reasoning, the justice announced on June 27 that they were altering their earlier ruling by deleting the mention of a court case that declared "the application of the entrapment defense depends upon whether 'the intent to commit the crime originated in the mind of the defendant or in the mind of the entrapping officer.'"

They also deleted this sentence from their opinion: "The record supports the finding that the intent to commit the charged offenses, by seeking out a 13-year-old girl, originated in the mind of the police officers involved in the investigation, not in Villapando's mind."

It troubled the justices that the police lured men to respond to the adult section sex ad by not revealing the supposed female's age as a minor until after receiving responses and that in the weeks before Villapando drove to meet the girl they altered the girl's MySpace account to indicate she was 17 years old.

The justices' editing retreats from siding with Villapando's entrapment argument by retaining a sentence that states the defendant "was arguably induced by the police to pursue the fictional 13-year-old Jess, as they appealed to [his] sexual fantasies and urged him to continue the exchange of communications and meet for sex."

Vinnie Villapando's mug shot
County court records don't show that a re-trial has been scheduled.

HBPD launched the sting operation because there seems to be an endless supply of sexual predators searching for underage kids to molest in Southern California.

Go HERE to read my original coverage of the case.

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Email: Twitter: @RScottMoxley.


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ltpar topcommenter

Anytime Police conduct an undercover investigation they create a false persona to fit the crime.  In a narcotics case, Cops may pose as a user or dealer.  There is a lot of role playing back and forth until the elements of the crime are met.  There are stict guidelines relative to "Entrapment."  Entrapment is conduct by an Officer inducing a person to commit an offense that the person would otherwise have been unlikely to commit.  In dealing with Internet crimes involving kids, there are numerous criminals surfing the net looking for their next victim.  The bad guys have a false persona of their own and use fake pictures to convince  victims to meet with them in person.  In this case, this was no innocent person but rather a sexual predator, who knew full well what he was doing, who he was doing it with and what he wanted the end result to be.  As I undertood the case, it was reversed not because of misconduct by the Police, but because the Judge refused to allow the Defense to bring up the excuse of entrapment.  

ltpar topcommenter

Scott, it would be incorrect for me to suggest that every single Police Officer who shows up in court, raises his/her hand and swears to tell the truth honors that commitment.  At the same time I would poiint out that a vast majority of Officers do just that, telling the truth regardless of how it impacts the case.  If an Officer lies on the stand and is caught, which a good Defense attorney may well do, his/her career is finished in law enforcement due to them being branded as a liar in the System.  After 35 years on the job, I can truthfully say that I never found it necessary to be anything but 100% truthful and never knew anyone I worked with who was not that way as well.  Moral of the story is and I say this without making excuses, Cops are humans just like anyone else.  They are subject to the same pressures, stress and trials of life as you are.  We tell Officers over and over from Day 1 on the job, that they are held to a higher standard of conduct than the normal citizen, because of the Public Trust nature of the job.  Sadly, some fall short of that standard.  Those who fall short, we quickly try and remove from their jobs.   

tongue_twister_for_t topcommenter

The June 10 opinion overturned the 2011 convictions of Venson Villapando for attempted lewd conduct with a 13-year-old girl, who was in fact a decoy persona created by undercover, HBPD police officers.

Can someone please explain how you are a cop and you create a fake persona in order to bust a person for a crime against a person that does not exist. If the persona is fake and the person does not exist and the cops are the ones that created it aren't the cops in violation of the laws for lying and creating the fake persona in the first place to entrap someone for a false arrest. Case DISMISSED. "The cops are the criminals".

18usc241 topcommenter

I wonder when Justices in Orange County, CA are going to be troubled by the fact that their law enforcement community here are utilizing Hispanic gang members, white crack addicts and everything thing else in between to commit crimes against citizen/residents of same County. 

I wonder when Justices in Orange County, CA are going to be troubled by the law enforcement community here behaving like mafia trash criminal scum. 

Let's see: 

Las Vegas - entertainment complex - hotels - the mob 

Anaheim/Garden Grove - entertainment complex - hotels - the mob? 

Hope not.

paullucas714 topcommenter

Classic over reach  by Police officers. Same as when they over charge something to for e a plea when they know all along that the defendant can ask for lesser offense from the jury.

rscottmoxley topcommenter

@ltpar That's not exactly right. The justices thought the superior court judge fouled up the case by refusing to allow the jury to consider an entrapment defense. But they were also clearly troubled that the HBPD detectives lured about 100 men to respond to a Craigslist adult sex section ad by originally omitting the 13-year-old girl ruse. After enticing responses from obviously innocent people, the cops later laid the underage bait. The justices additionally weren't pleased that these detectives repeatedly initiated contact with this defendant after his interest had waned. Catching a criminal or creating a crime? The view of the appellate panel--a majority of whom are conservative Republicans--isn't difficult to decipher.


@ltpar A great explanation for those who simply wake up hating cops!  Most of them really are honest and act in our best interests

rscottmoxley topcommenter

@ltpar I agree with the gist of what you said and note that I don't believe the HBPD officers on this case lied under oath or operated with evil intent even if they stretched the bounds of what is permissible in luring a citizen into a crime. The appellate court justices may not share my view, but their detailed opinion overturning the conviction is certainly newsworthy.

rscottmoxley topcommenter

@tongue_twister_for_t Many people don't realize that judges, a majority of whom are former prosecutors, have paved large, smooth highways that permit police officers to lie in the course of their duties. As I've repeatedly detailed here during 18 years, certain cops think they can lie whenever they want--including in official reports and on the witness stand. For great officers--and OC has many in various departments--this gift isn't a problem. But for dirty cops, and there are more than just a few who take advantage of lame judges & lame prosecutors, the situation is a green light to be scumbags worthy of prison cells. Too bad that OC has so many judges that look the other way to corrupt police actions.

ltpar topcommenter

@paullucas714  Police Officers don't charge or not charge anything.  The prepare the case based on the elements of the crime and the evidence to support it.  They take the case to the Filing Deputy at the D.A.'s Office and that is who determine what charge to file.  The Officers don't always agree with what is filed, or the later plea bargaining deal but the D.A.'s don't like to lose cases and they have the final say.   

ltpar topcommenter

@rscottmoxley @ltpar Guess we will find out in the retrial if HBPD screwed up the investigation?  If they did, the Investigators need to be disciplined.  Come on Scott, how many of those 100 men frequenting an adult sex site do you think were just innocent persons?  Didn't even know Craigs List had such a place, but then I am not looking for love in all the wrong places.   


@tongue_twister_for_t He knows that they are all crooks and discriminate against those that do not eat donuts.  Is that enough for you, or does your personal issue with them demand more?

Some Costa Mesa cops are involved in union activities, too.  Is that your hot spot?

ltpar topcommenter

@bob_lablaw96 @rscottmoxley @ltpar This wasn't the 9th Circuit because that is Federal Court.  The decision was from our local State Court of Appeal and from some pretty conservative judges.  Case clearly needs to be retried and a conviction gained the right way. 


@rscottmoxley @ltpar The 9th Circus Court overturns stuff for the strangest reasons.  They are often overturned at the next level of review.

It is not illegal to answer ads in Craigslist or any other site. But, when they finally disclose that you are dealing with a minor, what should the reasonable adult do? Surely they would not go hyper and set up a meeting.

Come on! If HBPD messed up on this, it was not by much. The guy has still be identified as a sexual predator and I do not want my kids chatting with him.

Bush had nothing to do with the laws today.  Your hero, Barry, could have made sure that anything unpleasant from the Bush era was overturned.  Barry did not do this, so your argument is wasted

rscottmoxley topcommenter

@ltpar @rscottmoxley The Court of Appeal doesn't overturn convictions on whim, so the justices obviously thought there was a screw up no matter what happens in the re-trial. On your other point, it isn't remotely illegal--YET--for Americans to respond to personal ads, but between the likes of Bush, Cheney and Obama that freedom may evaporate too.

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