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Man arrested in sting to serve year in jail

He had arranged to meet someone he believed was an underage girl

WAILUKU — A Kihei man was taken into custody Thursday to serve a one-year jail term in connection with his arrest last year in a sting operation targeting online sexual predators.

Leonel Valdez, 28, is serving the jail term as part of five years’ probation.

He was among 10 men arrested in March 2020 after arranging to meet someone they believed was an underage teenage girl for sex, police said. Law enforcement officers posed as underage girls for the operation.

“He realizes there are consequences to his actions because he did commit this offense,” Valdez’s attorney, Cary Virtue, said when the sentencing hearing began May 20. “He will never get on an app like this again, never talk to anyone pretending to be 13 years old.”

Valdez has started sex offender treatment, Virtue said.

At times, he has had “severe depression over what he did,” Virtue said.

He said Valdez lives with his two daughters, their mother and his parents.

Deputy Prosecutor Mike Kagami recommended the sentence of a one-year jail term and probation, rather than prison, based on Valdez’s lack of criminal history.

Originally charged with first-degree electronic enticement of a child, Valdez had pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of second-degree electronic enticement of a child.

After Virtue raised the possibility of having a portion of the jail term suspended, 2nd Circuit Judge Peter Cahill delayed the sentencing to research the issue and to allow Valdez to get his second COVID-19 vaccination shot.

“Ever since that offense, I changed my ways,” Valdez said in court Thursday. “I don’t want to go through that again.”

After reviewing the legislative history of the law, Judge Cahill said Thursday that the one-year jail term was required.

“I don’t think there’s any option here at all,” he said.

When the electronic enticement law was enacted in 2006, “the attorney general’s office was promoting this to the Legislature because they found there was a need and the Legislature agreed,” Cahill said.

Valdez was required to register as a sex offender and to participate in sex offender treatment.

He also was ordered to have no contact with any minor child and not reside in a residence with minor children unless he has permission from his probation officer.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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