USS Ronald Reagan sailor found guilty of attempting to sexually assault children
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A USS Ronald Reagan sailor was convicted Wednesday of six charges involving attempted sexual activity with children.
Prosecutors said Petty Officer 1st Class Gilbert Sandoval — a 32-year-old boatswain’s mate assigned to the aircraft carrier — tried to meet a person he believed to be a 14-year-old Kinnick High School freshman for sexual acts. He was also accused of planning to have sex with a 7-year-old girl.
A seven-member panel of jurors found Sandoval guilty of attempted sexual assault of a child, attempted sexual abuse of a child, indecent communication to a child, attempted production of child pornography, inducing a child under 12 to engage in sexual activity and indecent language.
The panel of jurors — known in military proceedings as “court members” — will meet Thursday to decide sentencing.
The accusations came after Sandoval responded to two public posts on the anonymous messaging app Whisper that were planted by Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents. The first, which was targeted at Yokosuka sailors, was by an agent posing as 14-year-old “Alex.”
According to evidence presented at trial Wednesday, Sandoval messaged with “Alex” March 20 through 22, initially thinking she was a senior at Kinnick. After “Alex” revealed she was underage, Sandoval continued to text with her, eventually exchanging sexually explicit messages and sending a picture of his genitalia.
Over the same period, Sandoval sent messages to an agent posing as “Jess,” a mother seeking a man to rape her 7-year-old daughter, according to messages presented at trial. Sandoval set a time in April to meet “Jess” for sexual activity with the child, but noted he did not want to get caught doing something “immoral,” according to the evidence.
Prosecutors said that during his lunch break on March 22, Sandoval drove to meet “Alex” at her on-base Yokosuka home, believing she was alone. Sandoval and the teen had sent messages planning to talk during the meeting, then engage in sexual activity.
But when Sandoval arrived at the home and texted “Alex” that he was outside, NCIS opened the door and arrested him.
Sandoval’s attorney — Lt. Jim Howland — argued on Wednesday that his client may have gone to the house to assess her true age.
Though the agent pretending to be “Alex” told Sandoval she was 14, pictures sent to Sandoval purporting to be the teen were of a woman in her 20s.
Howland further argued that the NCIS agents participated in entrapment to arrest Sandoval, causing him to act in a way he otherwise was not predisposed to do. Howland suggested the sexually explicit messages to the 14-year-old and about the 7-year-old were just fantasy.
“He said some disgusting texts,” Howland told the court members. “But are these texts illegal?”
Sandoval’s mother, Eva Garibay, who traveled from Texas for the trial, told Stars and Stripes Wednesday that she felt the government tricked her son into his actions.
“As a parent, you want the best for your kids. When you sign them over to the military, you don’t expect them to play these little games,” she said. “I understand [undercover operations] have to be done for the actual child molesters, but you could tell they were pulling it out of him; that was entrapment.”
Sandoval has served in the Navy for 14 years, and has been stationed in Japan since 2015, Garibay said.