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Lurid testimony opens doctor/s rape trial
Fernando Cordero, left, talks with his attorney Friday in Santa Barbara Superior Court in Santa Maria. Cordero is on trial on charges that he sexually abused or attempted to abuse seven women while working as a clinical psychologist with Santa Barbara County.//Mark Brown/Staff

A Santa Barbara County psychologist/s trial on rape and other charges began Monday with lurid descriptions of 11 separate incidents of alleged sexual abuse, followed by a first-person retelling of maltreatment by one of the alleged victims.

Dr. Fernando Cordero, 66, is accused of sexually abusing or attempting to abuse seven women whom he met in the course of his work as a clinical psychologist with the county, and as an instructor at Hancock College.

Chief Trial Deputy Ann Bramsen, in her opening statement, told jurors in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in Santa Maria that Cordero Babused many women over many years.C

The first alleged victim to come forward in the case, a woman in her mid-40s identified in court as M.E.F. to protect her privacy, was the first witness in the case.

Her testimony indicated that she was the victim of rape, sodomy and oral copulation over the course of three years at four separate locations.

M.E.F. testified that she began seeing Cordero as a counselor in April 2003 as part of court-ordered treatment for stealing. After two more arrests for theft, Cordero assisted the woman in obtaining electronic monitoring instead of time in jail.

He drove M.E.F. home, plugged in the device, and then said it was Btime he received a reward from me,C M.E.F. said on the witness stand through an interpreter.

From the first recounting of sodomy and the following years of sexual abuse, M.E.F. repeatedly told the court, BI had no alternative.C

BThe main thing was that no one would believe me because of my priors (convictions) that I had, and because he always told me he had the power,C M.E.F. said.

She added that Cordero told her he could send her to prison or get her locked up indefinitely in a mental hospital away from her children if she did not submit to his sexual demands.

M.E.F. testified that the sexual abuse occurred at her home and in Cordero/s office at the county mental health building on Foster Road in Santa Maria.

The abuse continued when Cordero was moved to an office in the Santa Maria courthouse on Cook Street in 2007 to work in the Justice Alliance program, where he assessed the mental health of criminal suspects and reported his findings to a judge, according to Bramsen.

Several times M.E.F. got teary-eyed, but she sobbed as she recounted a particularly humiliating experience involving sodomy with a foreign object and a video camera at Cordero/s private office on S. Broadway, which he leased while working at the courthouse.

It was not until M.E.F. was arrested again for theft in September 2007 that she told a social worker of the abuse.

Cordero was arrested Nov. 9, 2007, following a taped conversation with the alleged victim. County sheriff/s detectives later discovered a camera card with a deleted and incriminating video during a search of his desk, according to Bramsen.

Scott Wippert, Cordero/s attorney, told the jury in his opening statement that his client is innocent, and the victim of false statements by a group of mentally ill women.

Rather than abusing M.E.F., Cordero did everything in his power to help her, Wippert said.

He alleged that M.E.F. was facing six years in prison and possible deportation, and that she did anything she could to get out of serving time.

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BDr. Cordero has been a professional psychologist for 17 years; he is a professor, and has devoted his life to helping people,C Wippert told the jury. BThis case is about credibility. Your job is to determine whether to believe women with serious mental illnesses.C

Cordero has been placed on administrative leave from his job with the county's Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services Department. He also has been banned from practicing psychology.

In all, Cordero is facing the following felony charges: three counts rape by use of force and duress and under color of authority; one count of forcible rape; one count of sodomy by use of force and duress and under color of authority; one count of sexual penetration by foreign object by use of force and duress and under color of authority; one count of oral copulation by use of duress and under color of authority; one count of sexual battery by restraint; one count of sexual exploitation by a psychotherapist or drug abuse counselor, and two counts of dissuading a witness from reporting a crime.

He also faces two misdemeanor counts of attempted sexual exploitation by a psychotherapist or drug abuse counselor.

Cordero is also charged with dissuading a witness, a felony, while he was out of custody on bail.

He will be back in court Thursday at 9:30 a.m., when Wippert will have the opportunity to cross-examine M.E.F.

Judge James Iwasko is presiding over the case.

March 31, 2009

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