New allegations made against horse ranch operator charged in child porn case

At least three people have accused Carmel Valley horse ranch operator Christian Clews of having “inappropriate sexual contact” with them while they were minors, a federal prosecutor said in court on Thursday, Jan. 19.

Clews, 51, who runs the Clews Horse Ranch and is a former long-time member of the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board, on Jan. 19 pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court to formal charges of possessing and distributing child pornography. The charges stem from an investigation by the San Diego Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Following his arraignment, Assistant U.S. Attorney Janet Cabral told Magistrate Judge Andrew G. Schopler that her office had received new information, and was requesting additional restrictions on the movements of Clews, who is out of custody on $150,000 bond and is subject to both home incarceration and electronic monitoring.

The new information, she said, regarded three “additional” victims of inappropriate sexual conduct, as well as the presence of minors on the horse ranch property. She did not elaborate in court on how many total alleged victims had come forward, and declined to comment after the hearing. Of the three people who made the allegations, two said they had occurred several years ago, while one said the contact occurred within the past couple of years, Cabral said in court. Clews has not been charged in connection with any alleged cases of sexual contact with a minor.

Another condition of Clews’ release is that he have no unsupervised contact with minors.

“It’s our understanding there are numerous minors going to the ranch for riding lessons,” Cabral said.

Therefore, she requested that Clews be restricted only to his home, which is located on the 40-acre ranch property, rather than be allowed to move freely around the ranch grounds.

Clews’ attorney, Hamilton Arendsen, said he and his client had just learned about the sexual conduct allegations immediately before the arraignment hearing. But he said, “Mr. Clews vociferously refutes them.”

Arendsen said Clews has had no contact with minors since his release from custody, following his arrest in December. Other trainers do use the ranch to give riding lessons, and some of their clients are minors, said the attorney.

Clews needs to go out on the ranch property to do work related to the facility’s operation, Arendsen said.

After consulting with both sides, Schopler said, “I’m inclined to agree with (the prosecutor) there should be greater restrictions on Mr. Clews. There should be strict home incarceration.”

Under Schopler’s order, Clews is allowed to leave his home and go out on the ranch property from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, as long as no minors are present. He must remain inside his home from 2 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily. He must also inform trainers that no minors are allowed on the property from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., the judge said.

According to a complaint filed in federal district court in December, agents executed a search warrant at the Clews Horse Ranch and Clews’ home on Oct. 28, following a two-year investigation related to possession and distribution of child pornography.

During the search, investigators seized several electronic devices from Clews and his residence, which contained numerous child pornography image and video files, said the complaint. The court document said Clews admitted on Oct. 28 to possessing and distributing child pornography.

One of the electronic devices seized, a Dell desktop computer, contained approximately 100 child pornography videos, said the complaint.

Clews’ next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 24. 

Following the hearing, both Clews and his attorney declined comment.

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