A former Sanger High School teacher was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for sexually assaulting a a 17-year-old female employee inside his restaurant in 2011.
Judge James Petrucelli said in Fresno Superior Court that Sergio Heredia is “a danger to the community.” The judge also praised the victim for having the courage to come to court and stand up against her assailant.
“This is not an honorable act by an honorable man,” Petrucelli said. “He stole her dignity, her security and her innocence.”
Heredia, who had been out on bail, was then handcuffed in court. Before he left the courtroom, he was ordered to register as a sex offender.
The sentencing ends a complicated, five-year legal ordeal in which Heredia entered a no-contest plea in February to felony charges of sexual battery and unlawful sex with a minor, then tried to take that back in a dispute with his lawyer, Robert Sherman Wynne.
In a hearing last month, Heredia, 53, testified that Wynne pressured him into pleading no contest. But Wynne said he never forced Heredia to accept. The plea deal, Wynne said, was in Heredia’s “best interest.” That’s because, Wynne testified, Heredia told him that when the girl said no, he didn’t believe she meant it.
In deciding whether to allow Heredia to withdraw his plea, Petrucelli had to weigh Heredia’s credibility as a U.S. Army veteran and longtime Sanger High teacher, against Wynne, a longtime Fresno criminal defense attorney who has been suspended from practicing law by the State Bar of California for getting three drunken-driving convictions, in 2008, 2014 and earlier this year.
In the end, Petrucelli kept Heredia’s plea intact because he had more than four years and dozens of court appearances to tell the court about his concerns about Wynne, but never did.
Court records say the victim was not a student of Heredia’s, but had worked at his Sports Bistro on O Street in Sanger as a waitress for about a week before the assault. She told police she was crying when she was assaulted by Heredia on a pool table the evening of Nov. 21, 2011. The victim is about 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighs 130 pounds. Heredia is 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds, court records say.
Prosecutor Nathan Lambert said during Wednesday’s hearing that Heredia initially denied having sex with the teen. But once DNA evidence was presented that proved sexual contact, Heredia changed his story and said it was consensual, Lambert said.
Heredia has continued to blame the victim, saying as late as last June that the girl was being vindictive, the prosecutor said.
The victim told Petrucelli that the assault has changed her life for the worse. She said she is constantly depressed and has a fear of men wanting to harm her. She said she has to sleep with her mother because she fears someone will assault her. “This event has changed my life forever,” she tearfully told the judge. (The Bee’s policy is not to name sexual assault victims.)
Heredia also wiped tears from his face in court. Before he was sentenced, he pleaded guilty to drunken driving stemming from an arrest in 2015. He also admitted to having a drunken-driving conviction in 2007.
“I never intended anyone to be hurt,” Heredia said while asking the judge to sentence him to probation so he could continue to attend programs for his sex and alcohol addictions. Heredia said the five-year legal ordeal has crushed him financially and emotionally. “I’m truly sorry for the mistakes that I have made,” he said.
But the judge said Heredia took advantage of his position of authority over the victim: “He preyed on her for his own sexual gratification.”