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Santa Rosa man pleas no contest to child sex charges

A 28-year-old Santa Rosa man will be sentenced to 16 years in state prison after pleading no contest Friday to sex crimes against a 5-year-old girl over a period of more than two years.

Dylan Josh Zara, a former assistant director of a Sebastopol youth summer camp, entered the plea bargain with prosecutors rather than going to trial, where he faced a possible life sentence if convicted.

Zara's mother, Leslie Benjamin, clasped a Bible as her son agreed to the settlement.

"He knows emotions run high over this," Benjamin said outside court. "He made a presumption a jury would have a hard time with it."

Under the deal, he admitted three or more acts of "substantial sexual contact" with a girl from February 2009 to July 20. He was willing to admit an allegation of oral copulation but denied that the acts included sodomy.

The remaining charges — two counts of sexual intercourse with a child under 10, oral copulation and possession of child pornography — would be dismissed. His sentencing is Nov. 2.

Zara's lawyer, Jeff Mitchell, said Zara could face separate federal charges of using the Internet to receive or distribute child pornography. FBI investigators were first tipped to Zara by emails sent from his account.

He was the assistant director of Sun Camp, run by the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center. He had been a computer technician at Twin Hills Middle School, also in Sebastopol.

He was not charged with any crimes related to his employment.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne @pressdemocrat.com.


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