San Mateo-Based Driving School Instructor Charged With Coercion And Enticement To Produce Child Pornography

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FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Department of Justice Building is pictured

SAN FRANCISCO – San Mateo-based driving instructor Johnnatan Zelaya Izaguirre (Zelaya) appeared in federal court to face charges that he coerced and enticed minor teenaged girls to produce child pornography and related offenses, announced U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan.  Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero presided over yesterday’s proceedings at the conclusion of which the magistrate judge ordered Zelaya to be detained pending further proceedings.

A federal grand jury handed down an indictment on September 1, 2022, charging Zelaya, 39, of Redwood City with the crimes.  According to the indictment, Zelaya used social media to entice and coerce minor teenaged girls to produce child pornography for his personal use and for sale.  The indictment alleges Zelaya offered to manage the minor victims’ sale of their sexually explicit content, offered monetary rewards for selling the victim’ content, and bought the victims sex toys to use in videos they were encouraged to create.  

Additional details of the alleged scheme are set out in documents filed by the government in the federal court proceedings.  According to government’s filings, Zelaya is both a graduate of a local police academy and the owner and operator of a driving school in San Mateo County.  The government alleged that Zelaya used his “position of authority and the powers of social media” to prey on teenage girls.  Specifically, Zelaya allegedly used social media to identify underage girls, ranging from ages 14 to 17—three of which are identified by their initials in the indictment—to entice and coerce them to produce child pornography.  Further, the government alleges Zelaya persuaded his teenage victims, some of whom were his students, to create child pornography in part by falsely claiming he was in law enforcement; the government alleges that although Zelaya graduated from a police academy, he never joined a police department. In addition, the government’s papers describe how Zelaya groomed his victims at times by complimenting their appearance, developing sexualized friendships with them, offering to manage their explicit content online, and offering them financial rewards for the creation of explicit content.  Zelaya allegedly provided a victim a list of the amounts of money she could earn by producing videos depending upon whether the content included nude vs. non-nude videos, videos of masturbation, or videos of “toy play.”  On one occasion, Zelaya allegedly threatened to leak explicit content to everyone his victim knew if she stopped creating content for him.  

Zelaya was arrested on January 4, 2022, after communicating with an undercover police officer he thought was 17 years old. The government’s court filings describe multiple communications between the undercover officer, who had posed as a driving student, and Zelaya that included highly sexualized conversations with instructions on how to masturbate, discussions of future interactions in which he would orally copulate and have sexual intercourse with her, and a request to have the officer perform a photo shoot with him.  The conversations culminated with Zelaya’s arrest on January 4, 2022, during a planned meet-up with the undercover agent.   

Zelaya is charged with two counts of coercion and enticement of a minor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b); one count of receipt of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2); and one count of possession of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4)(B) and (b)(2).  

Zelaya is next scheduled to appear on October 6, 2022, before United States District Court Judge William H. Orrick for an initial appearance before a district judge. 

The charges contained in the criminal indictment are only allegations.  As in any criminal case, the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Lauren Harding with assistance from Patricia Mahoney and Amala James.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI, the Redwood City Police Department, the Atherton Police Department, the Burlingame Police Department, and the California Department of Motor Vehicles Investigations Division.  

Anyone with information should contact the FBI at 415-533-7400.