A Basalt man facing two felony counts of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust had his bond set at $500,000 on Monday after a prosecutor said he posed an extreme risk to flee the country.
Felix Santana-Penaloza, 51, was arrested Friday after he allegedly confessed to Aspen police officers.
Two girls, the granddaughters of the woman Santana-Penaloza was dating, recently told an Eagle County sheriff’s deputy that the assaults happened over a period of years when the family lived in the Aspen area, according to the arrest affidavit. The family now lives in Eagle County.
Detective Walter Chi began investigating Santana-Penaloza, who worked for an Aspen grocery store before resigning last week, on Wednesday, when the Eagle deputy contacted Aspen police.
The girls told the deputy that the assaults happened two to three years ago, Chi’s affidavit says.
On Thursday, Chi attended an interview of one of the girls. She told authorities that Santana-Penaloza’s unlawful sexual contact began around 2006, when she was 7, and continued until she was 13.
She said “that Felix had almost ‘raped’ her when she was younger, holding her arms behind her back ...,” Chi wrote. “She said that when she was 13 years old, she began to know that what [Santana-Penaloza] was doing was wrong, and would fight him off. She said that if he came close, she would call out for someone, so that she would not be alone with him.”
Her sister told their parents that Santana-Penaloza had also assaulted her, the affidavit says.
After relatives confronted him, Santana-Penaloza denied the accusations before allegedly admitting he was culpable. Santana-Penaloza insisted that a relative call police, threatening to hurt himself if the authorities weren’t told, the affidavit says.
Since then, he allegedly told a relative of the girls “that he wanted this to be over.”
“He said that he was going to quit his job [and] had withdrawn all of his money from his bank,” Chi wrote.
In trying to locate Santana-Penaloza, another officer learned from a grocery store employee that the defendant had resigned, “collected all of his belongings and told the store manager that he was going to California and then to Mexico,” according to the affidavit.
On Friday, Chi called Santana-Penaloza, who said he was at a midvalley tire shop. Aspen police met him there, and he allegedly agreed to speak about the accusations during an interview at the Basalt Police Department.
Chi interviewed him, along with Assistant Police Chief Linda Consuegra, who is fluent in Spanish.
“Santana-Penaloza indicated ... when confronted that the girls were not lying, and he would take responsibility for his actions if it would help the girls begin recovering,” Chi wrote. “Santana-Penaloza told [me] that the age of the girls when he touched them was approximately 10 to 11 years old.”
He admitted to having a problem and said that he wanted to take responsibility, the affidavit says.
Chi said Monday that Santana-Penaloza was remorseful.
“He said, ‘I’ll pay for what I’ve done,’” Chi said.
In court Monday, Deputy District Attorney Andrea Bryan said that Santana-Penaloza had taken substantial steps to leave the United States. Given that he had quit his job and taken all of his money out of the bank, the high bond amount was justified, she said.
Santana-Penaloza also faces an indeterminate prison sentence upon conviction of four years to life, giving him further reason to try to flee, Bryan said.
Santana-Penaloza was represented by public defender Matt Morriss and did not speak during the advisement hearing.
Judge Gail Nichols of Pitkin County District Court set his bond at $500,000 and told Santana-Penaloza that he is due back in court Aug. 19.