History of child sexual abuse at California group home unraveled after Google cyber tip

A severely disabled girl who was 5 years old when she was placed in a Chino group home has filed a lawsuit blaming San Bernardino County for her repeated sexual abuse at the hands of a nursing assistant who later was convicted of abusing her and three others.

The suit, filed Jan. 9 in San Bernardino Superior Court, claims De Leon Country Home had been the target of complaints about sexual abuse and neglect of children for more than 15 years and yet the county failed to act to protect the plaintiff or others.

Specifically, the county received a report in January 2015 of an “inappropriate relationship” between a staff member named “Steve,” presumably Steve Jackson Rodriguez, and a child resident at De Leon Country Home, the suit alleges. The staff member had exchanged text messages and photos with the child, though the nature of those communications was not specified in the lawsuit.

The suit alleges negligence and breach of mandatory duties and demands unspecified general and punitive damages.

Red flag

The 2015 complaint should have raised a red flag, but, instead, Rodriguez continued to work steadily at the facility as a certified nursing assistant through 2016, then off and on through January 2018 on a “gig type basis,” said Ciaran McEvoy, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department.

It wasn’t until July 2021, when Homeland Security Investigations — acting on a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children — launched an investigation that led to the August 2021 arrest and subsequent indictment of Rodriguez, 38, of Pomona. He was charged with multiple counts of enticement of a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity and possession and distribution of child pornography.


Rodriguez pleaded guilty in September 2022 to sexually abusing four children, three of whom were clients at De Leon Country Home, and creating child pornography, and was sentenced to life in prison on Jan. 13.

He was convicted of sexually abusing and exploiting the plaintiff from Jan. 10, 2016, through Jan. 27, 2018, beginning when she was 6 years old and lasting until she was 8, according to the indictment.

Two other men — Cyr Dino Banguguilan, 36, of Azusa and Miguel Bocardo, 23, of Baldwin Park — were convicted by a jury on one count of receipt of child pornography and one count for possession of child pornography following a four-day trial in November 2022. They are scheduled for sentencing Feb. 24 at the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Santa Ana.

History of abuse, neglect

The plaintiff in the lawsuit, described as having diagnoses of PTSD, autism spectrum disorder, language impairment, intellectual impairment and bipolar disorder, was placed by the county into De Leon Country Home after she was separated from her biological parents in March 2015.

At the time, De Leon already had a history of reports of suspected abuse and neglect dating back to 2005, and the county, according to the lawsuit, was aware of that history.

From 2005 to 2021, there were at least 25 reports, or so-called referrals, of suspected child abuse and neglect. A referral is a report of suspected child abuse or neglect made to a child abuse hotline, said the girl’s attorney, Jack Anthony.

Among the referrals of which the county was aware, the suit alleges, were the following:

  • A 13-year-old girl reported she had been held down so that staff could shave her pubic area.
  • A child disclosed that staff members had hit her and touched her genitals.
  • A child died under unusual circumstances after he was found with a feeding tube cord wrapped around his neck.
  • A resident was not getting enough to eat and was extremely malnourished.
  • There were no policies or procedures in place to protect clients against sexual abuse from other clients.

Additionally, a referral in January 2015 alleged that staff members at De Leon Country Home had engaged in sexual abuse with a child resident.

Rodriguez, according to the lawsuit, oversaw six disabled residents while working the night shift at De Leon Country Home and neighboring Doug’s Home. He shot video of sex acts he committed with the plaintiff on his mobile phone and, from April 2021 to August 2021, sent the pornographic videos to two men electronically, according to the lawsuit. Those two men were later identified by authorities as Banguguilan and Bocardo.

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