This week’s major rainstorm has forced a one-week delay in the scheduled sentencing of a serial sexual predator who abused preteen and teen-age girls he met online and by volunteering at school events.
Zachary Arthur Warburg, 32, of Goleta was expected to be sentenced Thursday to four years in state prison after pleading guilty to multiple felony counts of child sexual abuse and child pornography.
His attorney, however, is commuting from out of the area and requested a one-week continuance due to road conditions, Deputy District Attorney Sarah Barkley told the News-Press.
“The sentencing and remand should occur next Thursday, 1/12,” she said.
Mr. Warburg pleaded guilty to four felonies and three misdemeanors in a plea bargain in a deal he made with county prosecutors at a Nov. 30 pretrial hearing. The plea agreement prevented the need for a trial that would have required his young victims to testify against him in open court.
“By reaching a plea negotiation in this case, the victims will not have to suffer the trauma of a lengthy trial or relive the abuse and unwanted sexual advances through testimony,” the prosecutor said. “It is my hope that this plea and sentence will give the victims closure and help them move forward on their path towards healing.
“Additionally, it is my hope that the consequences of his plea, including sex offender registration and his state prison sentence, prevent Mr. Warburg from committing future offenses and protect the children and teens of our community from further victimization.”
Two of the felonies — lewd and lascivious behavior with a child under 14 and dissuading a witness — will count as strikes under the state’s Three Strikes law, prosecutor Barkley said.
Mr. Warburg also pleaded guilty to felony charges of possession of child pornography and attempting to contact a minor to commit lewd acts.
The three misdemeanors involved annoying, harassing or molesting a child with lewd intent.
“In the legal sense, molesting means bothering (not physical child sexual abuse),” Ms. Barkley said.
In addition to the prison term, Mr. Warburg will have to register as a sex offender, the prosecutor said.
“He was a local photographer who did on scene photography at local newsworthy incidents (emergencies, fires, accidents etc.),” she said. “He also volunteered to photograph local youth theater and singing events. He met his victims through his volunteer work, attendance at local youth performance events, and online.”
The criminal investigation against Mr. Warburg began after a school resource deputy at San Marcos High School was notified by a student that he was “attempting inappropriate communications with her of a sexual nature,” according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.
Investigators uncovered several alleged instances of criminal behavior between the defendant and minor female students at local area high schools and junior highs, as well as out of the area.
He was arrested in March 2019 on 17 felony and eight misdemeanor charges involving multiple victims.
The offenses occurred mainly in the spring of 2018, although some allegations date back to 2015, with victims ranging from 11 to 17 years old, according to court documents.
There were 24 charges total filed against him — 19 felonies and five misdemeanors. But the remaining counts will be dismissed when he is sentenced, Deputy District Attorney Barkley said.
He actually will be sentenced to a total of seven years and eight months in state prison, but some of the terms will run concurrently, meaning his sentence really will be four years. He will have to serve three years and five months before he is eligible for parole.
Mr. Warburg read a statement of apology at the Nov. 30 hearing during which he pleaded guilty, Ms. Barkley said.
“In his statement, he apologized for his conduct and expressed remorse to the victims and involved parties,” she said. “I’m not going to comment on my personal opinion of the statement. It’s hard to do so when I don’t know Mr. Warburg or what his intentions are going forward.
“I hope he will not victimize young women and girls in the future and that his remorse was genuine.”