Ex-Lake County undersheriff’s bond set at $100,000 for child sexual exploitation charges
The former undersheriff of Lake County was indicted by a grand jury on Tuesday after being ensnared in a workplace harassment investigation that quickly spread to his personal life and allegedly uncovered far more serious sexual misconduct.
Fernando Mendoza could face a lengthy prison sentence if convicted of the five felony charges against him, including attempted incest, child sexual exploitation and embezzlement of public property. He was also charged with two petty offenses for official misconduct.
Mendoza appeared in court for the first time on Wednesday in Leadville, clad in a striped orange jumpsuit with manacles around his hands and feet. His bond was set at $100,000, and he was barred from contacting any children or the seven victims named in his case.
The District Attorney’s Office for Colorado’s Fifth Judicial District began investigating Mendoza in October after three female employees of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office reported him for harassing them.
The women, who worked as 911 dispatchers, told Denver7 that Mendoza had repeatedly sent them lewd messages while they were on and off duty. Mendoza left the sheriff’s office soon after the probe began, but the allegations spread beyond his capacity as undersheriff.
“We were contacted by additional victims after we began the investigation,” District Attorney Bruce Brown said. ‘The connection there is that the initial complaint was made and it was very well publicized.”
The most serious charges stem from one victim, who is related to Mendoza and was a minor at the time of the allegations, Brown said. She claims that as far back as 2013, Mendoza tried to entice her to post nude photos of herself online.
Mendoza also allegedly used a camera that belonged to the sheriff’s office to spy on the girl while she was in the bathroom, leading the grand jury to indict him for embezzlement of public property and invasion of privacy for sexual gratification —both felonies.
In addition to those two felonies and two petty offenses, Mendoza is also charged with felonies for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, attempted sexual exploitation of a child and incest.
Brown declined to comment on what sort of penalty ranges Mendoza could face. The most serious charges against him are class-four felonies, which can carry up to six years in prison each.
Mendoza’s next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 23 at 1:30 p.m. in Lake County Court.
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