SAN JOSE (KCBS) — The Santa Clara County science camp counselor charged with child molestation had been the focus of a federal investigation into child exploitation months before his arrest – and was able to kept his work permit issued through a program for immigrants brought illegally into the country despite the probe, a U.S. senator alleged.
Edgar Covarrubias-Padilla was arrested May 7th on child pornography charges. Earlier this week, prosecutors filed additional charges against Covarrubias-Padilla, including committing a lewd and lascivious act on a child under the age of 14 and production and distribution of child pornography.
The 27-year-old was a counselor known as “Papa Bear” at Walden West Science Camp for fifth- and sixth-grade students in unincorporated Saratoga.
On Thursday, U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) demanded to know whether administrators of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – allowing undocumented children brought to the U.S. to avoid deportation and retain a work permit — knew of the criminal investigation. According to Grassley’s office, a whistleblower alerted the senator about the investigation.
Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in a letter that it was known as early as November that Covarrubias-Padilla was the subject of a federal investigation into child exploitation and pornography.
The superintendent for the Santa Clara County Office of Education, which runs Walden Camp, told the San Jose Mercury News his office didn’t know about the investigation until shortly before Covarrubias-Padilla was arrested, and that he had a valid work permit.
Despite the probe, Grassley told Johnson that Covarrubias-Padilla kept his work permit and was protected from deportation through his participation in the DACA program, begun by the Obama administration in 2012.
Grassley’s letter said Covarrubias-Padilla was brought into the country illegally as a child and successfully applied in 2012 for deportation protection under the DACA program.
On Thursday, the family of a 10-year-old who attended Walden West filed a claim against Santa Clara County Office of Education, which hired Covarrubias-Padilla who was the night manager at the camp.
The family’s attorney Nina Shapirshteyn said the county failed to follow its own rules at the camp – among them a requirement that adult not be alone with a child – which led to the molestation. “The fact that the county already had this rule in place is a testament to how important it is not to allow an adult to be with a child alone. In this case, that adult happened to be a pedophile.”
Shapirshteyn said was extra disturbing because the children were actually encouraged to go see him when they were sick, or homesick or felt sad at night.
The Santa Clara County has hired an investigator to look into the camp where Covarrubias-Padilla worked.
“This is a higher priority case,” said Sgt. James Jensen with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. “This guy went after the youngest people…the most vulnerable. We want to make sure this doesn’t happen. We’re going to try to get all the victims together and try to bring the case to the district attorney’s office. He needs to serve time.”
The sheriff’s office said it’s received at least 100 calls and 50 emails from concerned parents. The San Jose Mercury News reports the Office of Education had initially assured Covarrubias-Padilla, known to the kids as “Papa Bear”, had no contact with children. However, that information was proven to be false. The office quickly corrected the misinformation about the supervisor’s contact with kids. Parents claim he would wake the campers in the morning with music playing from his laptop.
Since the arrest, the county Office of Education forced the rule of three at the camp requiring when a student is with a staff member, at least one other person is present.