Lenny Jones, former A.G. Citizen of Year, pleads no contest to child molestation

Lawrence “Lenny” Jones is arraigned on child molestation charges in San Luis Obispo Superior Court in April 2015.
Lawrence “Lenny” Jones is arraigned on child molestation charges in San Luis Obispo Superior Court in April 2015. Joe Johnston

Correction: This article has been edited to correct an error regarding the details of Lenny Jones’ plea bargain. He pleaded no contest to charges related to all four victims.

Arroyo Grande’s 2014 Citizen of the Year will be nearly 80 years old before he is eligible for release from state prison.

In a typically routine pretrial hearing in San Luis Obispo Superior Court last week, Lawrence Lucien “Lenny” Jones struck a deal with prosecutors, pleading no contest to half the charges against him in his year-long child molestation case.

Under the conditions of his plea, Jones, 64, will serve at least 14 years and eight months in state prison.

As of Tuesday, he remained in custody at San Luis Obispo County Jail where he has been held on $1.1 million bail since his arrest last April.

Jones was accused of molesting three girls, who were then 6 and 12 years old, as well as forcing a 3-year-old boy to pose for explicit photographs at a March 2015 birthday party at Jones’ Arroyo Grande home.

Jones faced 12 counts. On April 5, he pleaded no contest to four felony charges of lewd acts with a child under 14, one felony count of using a minor to engage in sex acts, and one misdemeanor charge of molesting or annoying a child. Felony charges of forced oral copulation, kidnapping, using a minor for sex acts and false imprisonment, as well as one misdemeanor charge of destroying evidence, were dismissed.

After speaking with the victims and law enforcement, we determined it was in the best interest of justice to enter into this agreement.

San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Lee Cunningham

Because they are minors, the victims are not identified in court records.

The plea means Jones will avoid a trial and the victims in the case will not have to take the witness stand.

“After speaking with the victims and law enforcement, we determined it was in the best interest of justice to enter into this agreement,” San Luis Obispo County Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham said Tuesday.

Sheriff’s deputies arrested Jones in April 2015 after searching his home and confiscating several items including computers and external hard drives, according to court records. Over the next month, investigators identified another boy and girl at the party as victims.

Jones, a real estate agent, was awarded one of the city of Arroyo Grande’s highest honors in 2014, for his volunteerism and community involvement. He received the award although he had been accused of molestation 20 years earlier.

According to court records, Jones was charged in August 1995 with misdemeanor molesting or annoying a child based on a criminal case initially investigated by the Arroyo Grande Police Department.

That case was later dismissed at the request of the District Attorney’s Office on the condition that Jones complete two years of unspecified counseling, which records show he fulfilled. Police and investigator reports on that case were purged in 2010, records show, and current police Chief Steve Annibali previously said he had no knowledge of the investigation.

Shortly after his 2015 arrest, families of two of the victims filed a lawsuit against Jones, claiming he tried to conceal property and assets so that they could not win money from him in any civil judgment resulting from a possible criminal conviction.

The civil complaint, filed by Arroyo Grande attorney Jim Murphy, accused Jones of conspiring with an unnamed person to fraudulently transfer property as the investigation into his crimes continued. Jones denied those claims in a July filing.

The victims sought unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, and records show a settlement was reached on March 10. Terms of that settlement are under seal by a court order and not public record.

Jones was a longtime real estate agent, community volunteer and self-described “big dog freak” who founded the SLO County Golden Retrievers in 2008, a club of about 300 golden retriever owners.

He formerly served as the chairman of the Arroyo Grande Chamber of Commerce, president of the Pismo Coast Association of Realtors and the Rotary Club of Arroyo Grande and board president of Woods Humane Society.

Jones told a Tribune reporter following his Citizen of the Year honor, “I don’t like the limelight.”

He is scheduled to be sentenced May 3.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune