Suspected child abuser rearrested after search warrant served at church

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fresno County sheriff's detectives have arrested a suspected child abuser again after they say they uncovered evidence from a tenth woman, one who reported abuse in her childhood.

A new mugshot shows Anthony Escobedo last Tuesday after his third arrest in connection with a Fresno County sheriff's investigation.

Escobedo was already facing 15 charges ranging from annoying or molesting a child to possession of child pornography to rape.

But detectives believed there were still more victims from Escobedo's time as a Jehovah's Witness.

"Our investigation led us to believe there was additional information in the church documents in more or less their personnel files that they keep on parishioners," said Lt. Brandon Pursell of the Fresno County Sheriff's Office.

Action News recorded detectives seizing manila envelopes as they served a search warrant last month at Jehovah's Witness churches in Kingsburg and Clovis.

Court documents state they found reports naming a previously unknown potential victim.

Investigators said an interview with the alleged victim, who is now a grown woman, corroborated a story from one of the earlier victims and provided evidence of an additional alleged crime.

Prosecutors filed five new felony charges afterwards and detectives arrested Escobedo.

Investigators say they asked the church for the records, but ultimately executed a search warrant to get them.

Spokespeople for the Jehovah's Witness national organization say they're cooperating in the investigation.

They told Action News police were contacted about Escobedo's behavior five times between 2009 and 2016, which is when the church expelled Escobedo as a member.

"To our knowledge, the identity of every victim known to the congregation has been reported to the police," they said in a statement. "As we understand it, the authorities were contacted on five different occasions about various incidents. In addition, the police are in possession of all relevant congregation records, which include privileged communications between congregants and elders."

Detectives say they're still not sure they have the full picture.

"We're going to keep going," said Lt. Pursell. "We are. We're going to keep digging. We still have more forensic evidence that we're examining. If we can find more victims, we're going to."

Escobedo has pleaded not guilty to every charge he's faced so far and he's bailed out after each arrest.

His defense attorney pointed out to me that some of the new charges stem from incidents investigated years ago.

Tulare County investigators dropped a case in 2012 citing insufficient evidence and Fresno County prosecutors dropped another in 2014 for the same reason.

But prosecutor Andrew Janz says he now counts ten victims in at least three counties, so he believes Escobedo is too dangerous to be free and he'll try to convince a judge to keep him in custody.

"What we've seen is a progression in terms of his conduct," said Fresno County deputy district attorney Andrew Janz, who is prosecuting Escobedo's case. "Everything from minor groping to full-on molestation and the newest case being an allegation of rape. When we see conduct progress like this, it's a warning sign that it's only going to get worse from here."

A judge is scheduled to decide Tuesday whether Escobedo should stay behind bars without bail pending trial.
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