A former Colusa County special education paraeducator was convicted March 22 on a single count of possessing sexually explicit images of children.
William Richard Wolfenbarger, 34, of Arbuckle, pleaded guilty to a felony and is facing up to one year in county jail and up to $50,000 in fines when he is sentenced March 29 in Colusa County Superior Court.
Wolfenbarger was arrested on the child pornography charge on August 29, 2016, by Colusa County Sheriff’s deputies, after the FBI uncovered approximately 4,000 images on his personal computer of minors under the age of 18 engaged in or simulating sexual activity, including at least 10 images of children under the age of 12.
Law enforcement initiated the investigation in February 2016 after Wolfenbarger was arrested for violating California’s “Peeping Tom” law by recording a minor in a state of undress on two occasions.
However, the District Attorney’s office never filed charges in relation to that incident, instead focusing on the investigation into Wolfenbarger’s apparent predilection for child pornography, officials said.
Deputy District Attorney Brendan Ferrell said Wednesday that Wolfenbarger’s conviction relates only to pornographic images Wolfenbarger downloaded to his computer, and none are in connection to his behavior toward any child he knew, despite that being the trigger for the investigation.
The FBI believes the source for most of the material found in Wolfenbarger’s possession originated in Russia, officials said.
Wolfenbarger entered his plea of guilty to Superior Court Judge Betsy Olivera, however, he requested through his attorney Albert Smith that he be sentenced by Judge Jeffrey Thompson, who initially presided over the case.
Olivera cautioned Wolfenbarger that by entering the guilty plea he was giving up his right to a jury trial.
“There are serious consequences here,” she warned.
Wolfenbarger’s next appearance in court will be at 1 p.m. on March 29.
In addition to any sentence imposed, Wolfenbarger could be subjected to registering for life as a sex offender under California’s Megan’s Law, officials said.
The Colusa County Office of Education terminated Wolfenbarger from his teaching position at Lloyd Johnson Jr. High shortly after his initial arrest in February 2016.
Meanwhile, Wolfenbarger’s wife, Rachel Wolfenbarger, faces one felony count of child endangerment.
Officials said Rachel Wolfenbarger did not alert authorities after discovering her husband’s attraction to sexually explicit images of children.
Instead, Rachel Wolfenbarger, in an exchange of text messages with her husband, which were read at her preliminary hearing, offered to keep quiet if Richard Wolfenbarger left the home quietly.
Prosecutors said additional text messages and statements she made to investigators during the investigation indicate that shortly after the couple separated, Rachel Wolfenbarger allowed her husband back into her life and access to the home where her three minor children live.
Rachel Wolfenbarger, through her attorney, denies any reconciliation occurred and has entered a motion for dismissal.
She is scheduled to appear in Colusa County Superior Court on April 18. ■