In June a Santa Barbara judge allowed accused child abuser and former freelance photographer Zachary Warburg access to a cellphone while out on bail. Now prosecutors say Mr. Warburg deleted a string of text messages from that phone before a routine search of the device could be conducted.
Mr. Warburg, 28, appeared for a conference before Judge Brian Hill on Tuesday in the Anacapa Division of Santa Barbara County Superior Court. The conference was to set a preliminary hearing, which will determine if there is enough evidence to support the charges.
Mr. Warburg worked intently on a crossword puzzle in the audience before Judge Hill called his case.
During the hearing, Judge Hill revealed that a pre-trial release report conducted by county Probation Department officials determined that Mr. Warburg deleted a string of text messages from his cellphone.
Those messages allegedly contained a conversation with one person. It is not clear how officers determined messages were deleted but Deputy District Attorney Kevin Weichbrod said they could not be recovered.
“The report is a bit disturbing,” said Judge Hillm who during a June 11 hearing gave permission for Mr. Warburg to use a cellphone to find work.
The permission was granted subject to search and seizure terms.
Mr. Warburg told Judge Hill that he had been working at a lamp repair shop until his employer learned of his pending criminal case in the news and terminated him.
His defense attorney, Carlos Mackler, said “message received,” of the Probation Department’s report and argued that Judge Hill should put off any action on the case until Mr. Warburg’s usual attorney, Jeff Chambliss, is available.
Judge Hill continued Mr. Warburg’s preliminary hearing setting conference to Sept. 17. He allowed Mr. Warburg to use his phone at least until that date, over Mr. Weichbrod’s objection.
On March 25 the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office filed a 24-count complaint, with 16 felonies and eight misdemeanors, against Mr. Warburg.
The charges include communicating with a minor with intent to commit sex crimes or other felonies, possession of child pornography, sending harmful material to a minor with intent of sexual gratification, attempted sexual penetration by foreign object, dissuading a witness from reporting a crime, and annoying or molesting a child under 18.
Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Karapetian said Mr. Warburg faces as much as 17 years in prison if convicted.
Mr. Warburg pleaded not guilty on March 29 and was released on $1 million bail shortly thereafter.
The charging documents allege the offenses occurred from 2015 through spring 2018. The victims’ ages range from 11 to 17.
An investigation began when a sheriff’s school resource deputy assigned to San Marcos High School was notified by a student that Mr. Warburg “was attempting inappropriate communications with her of a sexual nature.”
The sheriff’s office opened an investigation and discovered several other instances of suspicious, lewd and suspected criminal behavior occurring between Mr. Warburg and minor female students at local high schools and junior high schools, as well as out of the area.