“I met him online, on an app called Hot or Not,” said Roni (not her real name.)
The beautiful strawberry blonde 16-year-old girl first communicated with the man using an old iPod that her mother had purchased and then forgot about.
“I made a profile, and you can like other people’s pictures, and based on who you like they can like yours back, then you make a connection, and then they can message you. And I liked one of his pictures, and then he liked mine.”
The teenager used her real name and true age. The man lied. “Um... a couple of times, yeah. He told me he was 16.”
And then he said he was 18. Eventually he told her he was 21. He never did tell her he was actually 41.
Roni still lives in San Diego County. In late January 2014, the teen was in San Francisco participating in a pro-life march with her church group. That was when Roni first communicated with the sly older man. He identified himself as Shawn Opry and used a photo from the internet of a male model who is actually named Sean O’Pry. The clever man used a lot of names over the next few months, including Slim and Max Powers and Janis Christo. They first communicated through the Hot or Not app, and then they moved to Facebook and Skype to continue messaging.
The man asked for Roni’s full name and phone number right away, but she wanted to be sensible. She made him wait. After four days she gave him the information.
Two weeks later, on Valentine’s Day 2014, the teenager was thrilled to receive a dozen roses, delivered to her home. Mom was not so thrilled, “Once he sent the roses, I felt like he knew where we lived.”
A man she had never met was communicating with her daughter. “[Roni] was ecstatic and smitten and just head over heels,” Mom remembered later when she testified in court. “I was afraid if I cut it off she would run away.” So Mom hesitated. Her daughter told her the man lived hundreds of miles away in Northern California. So Mom figured any cause for worry was not so imminent.
Mom did try to connect with the mystery man, to find out more about him. She sent a photo of her sweet daughter tying her little nephew’s shoelaces at a soccer game. Mom attached the caption: “That’s my little girl.” Mom’s idea was “to show that we were a family and that we were close.”
Mom wanted to contact the man in a non-threatening way. “They were talking about being in love and getting married, and I was afraid she was going to run away.”
But the man didn’t take it that way. On February 17, he texted to Roni: “Your mom was probing. She’s crafty. She’s trying to catch me.”
Coincidentally, Roni’s family had plans to travel up the coast for her dad’s work. The whole family was going, and they would stay at a resort hotel. Mom wondered if this might be an opportunity to meet the person communicating with her daughter. They had time to think about it because the trip was more than a month away.
But the mystery man would not wait. One week after Roni received her Valentine roses, she met the man in San Diego County. He came to San Diego County at least five times, traveling more than four hundred miles each way, before he was finally arrested.
Meet the mystery man
Pedro Luis Rodriguez is 43 years old. He is 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs well over 200 pounds. He’s the eldest of five brothers. When Rodriguez first connected with Roni, he was living in a room at his mother’s home on Spring Street in Redwood City on the San Francisco peninsula. For his construction business, Rodriguez used a mailing address two blocks away, on Cassia Street.
At least two of Rodriguez’s former girlfriends had obtained restraining orders against him. One was 17 at the time. For those previous troubles, Rodriguez made a plea deal and served time in a Northern California jail in 2010.
In 2012, a jury found Rodriguez guilty of eleven crimes in San Mateo County. Those crimes included stalking while under a restraining order, identity theft, computer fraud, intercepting electronic communications, and making threatening phone calls. For those offenses, Rodriguez was sentenced to six years in State prison. He was released early — on Christmas Eve 2013. At the time Rodriguez contacted Roni he had been out of prison one month.
In court documents, Rodriguez was described as being on “post release community supervision” under Assembly Bill 109. That legislation “realigned” the supervision of convicted felons from the State prison and parole system to local control. Thousands of criminals were moved into local jail or released back into their local communities after the law redefined 500 crimes as “less-serious.”
I’ve never been kissed before
Rodriguez traveled to San Diego County on February 22, 2014. “We agreed to meet in my neighborhood outside of my house,” Roni said in court, six months later. “Well, I was walking down street, I came down the hill behind my house.”
She saw Rodriguez standing outside his car, and she recognized him from a picture he sent. She got into his rental car and they drove around and went shopping. “After that we went to his hotel, because he had to get something from his room. It’s off of El Camino by the Hooters by the freeway in Oceanside. It’s Extended Stay.”
She decided to go with him to his room. They sat on the bed and talked, and then “He kissed me. I laughed. Because I’ve never been kissed before. I got really shy. I was just hugging him.”
But before they left the hotel room, the intergenerational couple moved well past hugging and kissing. And they took pictures.
Rodriguez traveled to San Diego County again two weeks later. They arranged their secret meetings as they could. “My parents sometimes randomly go away for the whole day, so sometimes it was up in the air if I could get out that weekend,” Roni explained later. “And that weekend it happened to work out so we could meet.”
Three weeks after that, Roni made the planned trip to Northern California with her family. Investigators claim Rodriguez got a room at the same hotel and secretly met with his underage lover. However, there are no charges filed for any alleged crimes that may have happened in that jurisdiction.
During the months of their relationship, Rodriguez gave Roni multiple cell phones so they could communicate. He put his number in the phones under the name Jeannette so it would look like Roni was messaging a gal pal. And Rodriguez was able to see Roni’s location any time using an app on the phones.
Roni was madly in love. She expected an engagement ring at any moment. But one night in the spring of 2014, Roni had an evening with her girlfriends. “Just five of my friends that I go to school with. We had a sleep over, and I showed them pictures.” Some of the photos were of Roni in bed with a man. “I thought it would be funny.” And Roni showed her friends certain sexual devices, “I said that he ordered them online and that he sent them to the UPS store.”
That store was within walking distance of Roni’s home. Her friends were not impressed the way she expected they’d be. “They stopped socializing with me.” And word got back to her parents. “My parents were really stressed out at that point, hearing all the things I had said to the girls at the sleepover.”
And there were other things that made Roni start to question her relationship with her secretive man. Sometimes Rodriguez sent hurtful messages to her. For example, one day he sent to her: “I [verb’d] you in the [anatomy] the first time we met. You didn’t even make me wait. You’re not special.”
Roni sometimes attempted to withdraw from him. She blocked his phone number. But somehow he got around that. He wouldn’t stop. Finally one day Roni handed one of her phones to her mother, “Hoping he would leave me alone at that point.” Then Roni used another of her secret phones to tell Rodriguez that her mother had the other phone now. Roni thought this would make him back off. But Rodriguez was savvy enough to erase all the data on the surrendered phone remotely.
And then Roni asked her mother to take her to a gynecologist. She had begun to worry that she’d been exposed to sexually transmitted diseases. After that doctor’s visit police were finally contacted.
Rodriguez reacted quickly. On May 27, 2014, he sent a letter to Roni, asking her to sign it. This letter was entered as an exhibit during his trial a year later. It read, “I (Roni) had my first gynecologist visit today and upon completion of my examination and explaining I was sexually active was told I was a party to a crime.
I was shuttled to the Sheriff’s dept where I was under belief I was being detained for a sex crime or producing child pornography. I had adult themed videos of myself on my phone. I was never Mirandized and felt if I did not say the things the officers wanted as well as identify a photo of someone from my Facebook I would be arrested and sent to jail. I only know a Mr. Rodriguez from a dating app and was forced to identify him as a partner.”
Oceanside police detective Steve Stracke contacted Rodriguez’s “post release community supervisor” in San Mateo County. Rodriguez was taken into custody and eventually transferred to San Diego County. In July of 2014, Rodriguez was brought into a San Diego courtroom and the judge ordered him to have no contact whatsoever with the alleged victim. After this order, investigators claim Rodriguez made “hundreds” of illegal communications with Roni.
Slick operators often attempt to represent themselves in court. Rodriguez was not exception. While in custody, Rodriguez allegedly coordinated with his family to send more cell phones to Roni so he could continue to communicate with her. One of his brothers has already pleaded guilty as an accomplice in a separate case against Rodriguez.
In court papers, one investigator described an alleged phone conversation between Rodriguez and Roni: “Pedro Rodriguez told (Roni) she did well but she should have said she never gave permission for (police) to search her phone. Pedro Rodriguez told her to stay focused and to keep in mind that he was going to be coming home. (Roni) promised Pedro Rodriguez that she was on his side. They talked about their future together. Pedro Rodriguez told (Roni) to look online for a two- to three-carat diamond then to check the Tiffany website to look for a ring setting so she could have a nice promise ring.”
During trial, the prosecutor played one of the recorded phone calls Rodriguez made to Roni, from jail in San Diego County. “I’ve been going over the charges and one thing that’s on there is that they are charging me with contacting you specifically for sex. So if they ever ask you if he contacted you for sex you have to say no, and that you never got naked for sex.”
In January of 2015 a police investigator came to Roni’s home and took away three different cell phones that she was still using to communicate with Rodriguez. One phone was in Roni’s purse, one was in the pocket of the hoodie she was wearing, and one was plugged into a charger in a bookcase in the family room.
She’s a liar
Rodriguez gave up acting as his own attorney on the date set for trial, in October of 2014. His mother Gloria hired private defense attorney, Herb Weston, who delayed trial another seven months until late May 2015.
The defense attorney wanted the jury to question the reliability of the alleged victim. “She lies. And then she lies again.” When Roni came to court she gave conflicting testimony at different hearings. During one hearing, while Rodriguez was still acting as his own attorney, she declared from the witness box: “I love him still, um, because I feel like he cares about me” and “because I feel like there’s nothing wrong with our relationship.”
Roni told a judge she had discussed with Rodriguez, “That we would wait until I was 18 to get married.”
Defense attorney Weston suggested that this girl got mad at Rodriguez during a childish fight and wanted to get him in trouble. “Can you say you are forever sure of the truth of the charges from her testimony?” he asked the jury.
When Roni was last in the witness box she said it was hard to finally come out with the truth and that she told lies trying to keep her parents’ love and trust. And she felt guilty. “I felt really bad for the situation he was in,” Roni said in a small voice. “And maybe it was my fault that everything had happened.”
“It is so rare to have the mountain of evidence that is in this case,” prosecutor Matt Greco countered. He displayed many photos during the three-week trial. “Pictures of the events as they occur.” Greco said, “Only a narcissist would want to preserve this, document this.”
He called the defendant “a master manipulator,” a “sexual predator,” and “every parent’s worst nightmare.”
Rodriguez, now 43, testified in his own defense. The jury deliberated a full day before declaring him guilty of 13 felonies in June 2015. Rodriguez is set to be sentenced on August 21, 2015.