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Former police officer sentenced to 30 years in prison for sexually assaulting people he arrested

A former Progreso police officer who sexually assaulted two people will spend 30 years in federal prison.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced former Progreso police Officer Matthew Lee Sepulveda, 26, of San Juan to 30 years in prison Tuesday.

“I intend to send a message to anyone who would contemplate similar conduct,” Crane said.

Matthew Lee Sepulveda, 26, of San Juan was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office.)

Sepulveda arrested a 20-year-old undocumented man on June 28, 2019, for driving without a license or insurance. Afraid of being deported, the man begged Sepulveda to release him. Sepulveda took the man to a part of the Progreso Police Department without security cameras and performed oral sex on him.

Two days later, Sepulveda arrested a 17-year-old boy after conducting a traffic stop on a car with a broken tail light. Sepulveda showed the boy pornography and performed oral sex on him.

The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office arrested Sepulveda less than two weeks later.

Federal prosecutors brought the case to a grand jury, which indicted Sepulveda on two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law — a federal civil rights charge.

Sepulveda pleaded not guilty. After a two-day trial in March, a jury took less than two hours to find him guilty.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarina S. DiPiazza, who prosecuted the case, requested that Sepulveda be sentenced to life in prison.

“He thought he got away with it,” DiPiazza said. “And then he did it again.”

Attorney Carlos A. Garcia of Mission, who represented Sepulveda at sentencing, said he found the recommendation of a life sentence for a 26-year-old man troubling.

Garcia said other police officers charged with the same offense, including an officer who killed someone, had received shorter prison sentences. He urged the court to consider a proportional sentence.

Sepulveda, who apparently plans to appeal, declined to make a statement at sentencing.

“No,” Sepulveda said, when asked to speak. “Not at the moment, sir.”

Crane said he considered many factors when he weighed the sentence, including fairness, justice and the safety of the community. He also considered the federal sentencing guidelines.

A report prepared by the U.S. Probation Office determined that Sepulveda had a base offense level of 40, Crane said. After enhancements for acting under the color of law, preying on vulnerable victims and multiple counts, Sepulveda had an offense level of 49.

Federal sentencing guidelines suggest a life sentence for anyone with an offense level of 43 or higher.

“Here, the court considers the extreme conduct, the very serious offense, the magnitude of the impact on these two victims and how this will be something they carry with them for life,” Crane said.

Crane said he was disappointed that Sepulveda didn’t apologize or show empathy for the victims.

After weighing the facts, reviewing the report and reading letters submitted to the court, Crane sentenced Sepulveda to 30 years in prison followed by five years of supervised release.

Sepulveda must comply with a laundry list of conditions that apply to sex offenders, including no contact with children. He must also pay $10,000 in restitution.

When he is released from prison, Sepulveda will be in his 50s.

“It still gives you an opportunity to redeem yourself,” Crane said. “And make good on your life thereafter.”

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