An Orange County mother of two turned to social services when she suspected something was awry with her young boys in 2011.
While at preschool, her 4-year-old son simulated sex acts a child his age shouldn’t comprehend — alarming his teacher.
The mother’s plea for help prompted a visit from a county social worker. The child said he had been inappropriately touched by a longtime family friend.
The mother’s husband, separated and living with his parents, claimed the story was a ruse to secure sole custody of the boy and his 1-year-old brother.
The social worker ultimately found the allegations lacking and closed the case. But that was far from the end of the ordeal.
In a closed-session meeting last week, Orange County supervisors voted 4 to 1 to pay the mother $4.5 million to settle a lawsuit she filed against the county in August 2018.
According to court documents, the mother alleged negligence by county workers and that they failed to contact authorities to investigate the allegations, as was required.
That misstep, the mother alleged, led to years of additional sexual abuse by Alex Padilla Beltran, 56, who was eventually arrested in 2018.
“It’s been a long road for the boys who didn’t even realize at the very beginning what was going on,” said the mother’s attorney, Christopher Taylor of Pasadena-based Taylor Labor Law. “They’ve been stressed about it and this trial.”
A friend of the family for 20 years, Beltran initially admitted he had pinched the 4-year-old’s butt but characterized it as nothing more than “roughhousing,” according to court documents.
The mother, however, alleged the incident was part of a pattern in which Beltran would abuse the boys when they were left in his care while their father went out to drink, court records show.
Beltran remains in custody at the Theo Lacy Facility. He is awaiting trial on 26 counts of sexual abuse over a 17-year period dating back to 2000 including alleged lewd and lascivious acts with minors.
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Taylor said the boys, one now in high school and the other in middle school, struggled with having to endure psychological testing and depositions for the case and are ready to move on.
“The mother is very happy because when this all started years ago, nobody believed her, including [child protective services] and relatives who didn’t want to admit this longtime family friend had been doing this,” Taylor said.
Orange County supervisors did not publicly comment on the settlement, which was first reported by the Orange County Register, after Tuesday’s closed session. But in a statement to The Times, Supervisor Vicente Sarmiento said he felt compelled to act even though the allegations happened well before he was elected.
“I believe that the settlement will help find closure and provide funds for future medical care to address the trauma suffered by the victims,” he said in the statement. “I’m also confident that with this settlement, and changes to the reporting standards within [the] O.C. Social Services Agency, we will not have complaints of child abuse go unanswered.”
In an interview, Supervisor Katrina Foley said, “Ultimately, we must make sure we take care of kids.”
“I voted in favor of the settlement because we were informed our county had a basic bureaucratic failure to send over a report to the Sheriff’s Department that caused there not to be an investigation by the sheriff,” Foley said.
She said she thinks the chances of such a reporting failure happening again are “a lot less,” and her main concern was the “victims were compensated and the perpetrator held to account.”
Calls to the Orange County Social Services Agency were not returned.
The only vote against the settlement came from board Chairman Don Wagner. He did not respond to a call or email requesting comment, but he told the Register he “felt that the argument that the county had done something wrong that justified paying such a large settlement was very weak.”