The father of a 15-year-old girl who was missing for a month with her uncle pleaded not guilty this morning to charges that he fondled her in 2008.
Jacob Berlinghoff, 33, entered the plea during an arraignment hearing before Shasta County Superior Court Judge Wilson Curle. Berlinghoff faces a felony count of lewd or lascivious act with a child under 14 years and misdemeanor counts of annoying or molesting a child and sexual battery.
Curle set a preliminary hearing for March 8. A pre-preliminary conference was also set for March 3.
Berlinghoff’s brother, Charles Berlinghoff, 44, faces nearly 100 sexually related charges in another case stemming from the girl’s disappearance. Charles Berlinghoff, of San Bernardino, is due in court on Friday.
Reached by phone, Jacob Berlinghoff’s attorney Eric Alan Berg said he’s hopeful that when all the facts of the case are brought to the surface, the District Attorney’s office will dismiss the charges against his client.
“When she was missing, (Jacob) spent 31 days trying to get people to help find his daughter,” Berg said. “He loves his daughter. Today we plead innocent to all the charges.”
An investigative report on the Jacob Berlinghoff case alleges that back in 2008 he made the teen drink alcohol as a punishment, touched her breast inappropriately and threatened to shave her head as an apparent lesson against the dangers of drinking. The girl was in the eighth grade at the time of the alleged incident.
While his daughter was missing, Jacob Berlinghoff appeared on national television programs and was quoted in news reports almost daily.
Shortly after the teen and her uncle were discovered in San Francisco, the teen told investigators that one of the reasons she ran away was because of the 2008 incident.
The investigative report details interviews with several people who say they were aware of the 2008 incident prior to the teen’s disappearance in November. Those who were aware of the 2008 incident included two of Jacob Berlinghoff’s ex-wifes (one of whom is the teen’s mother, Heather Vega), the teen’s sister, and one of her friends, the report says.
He was arrested on Dec. 23 and released from Shasta County Jail a day later, after his $50,000 bail was posted.
Deputy District Attorney Curtis Woods said investigations are continuing on the matter, but thus far only the three counts are pending against Jacob Berlinghoff.
Charles Berlinghoff, who was arrested on Dec. 11, originally faced 21 counts, but that expanded to 96 counts after the DA’s office gathered more information about the case. Charles Berlinghoff’s charges include incest, lewd acts with a minor, oral copulation, child stealing, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, providing lewd material to a minor and arranging a meeting with a minor for a lewd purpose.
Though Jacob Berlinghoff plead not guilty, Berg indicated that the defense team has work to do prior to March preliminary hearing.
“We still need to do a thorough investigation in the case,” Berg said.
Jim Dyar is a news, arts and entertainment journalist for A News Cafe and the former arts and entertainment editor for the Record Searchlight’s D.A.T.E. section. Jim is also a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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