Ex-Montgomery County jail officer sentenced to 5 years for sexual battery

A former Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office corrections officer was sentenced to five years in prison for sexual misconduct with inmates at the county jail.

Franco Villella pleaded no contest to six counts of sexual battery in July. Prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed with the court that Villella is a “predator who abused his authority and targeted women he perceived to be vulnerable.”

“He used his uniform, his authority and his power to control the lives of the women in ‘his’ custody to compel them to engage in sexual acts against their will,” prosecutors said in the court document.

The state’s sentencing memorandum says that between August 2018 and Dec. 2018, Villella sexually assaulted two female inmates by making them perform a sex act on him. The memorandum says Villella told the woman that he could make their time in jail more difficult if they didn’t comply.

The memorandum says as a corrections officer he should have protected the women as they made their way through the legal system.

“Instead, this defendant saw his uniform, his handcuffs, his set of keys, as his authority to exert his power over those entrusted in his care,” the state memorandum says. “To prey upon them for his own perverse sexual desires. And he did so, relatively ‘moments’ after being released from field training supervision. Within weeks of being solo, he preyed upon his first victim. He knew that this uniform commanded (the victim’s) compliance, and just to make sure she did so, he told her that he could take privileges away if she didn’t.

“Instead, his actions tarnished not only his own personal reputation but because he committed these crimes in uniform under the guise of police authority, he has disparaged the entire law enforcement community,” the state’s memorandum says. “The damage caused by him is immeasurable and extends far beyond the two women identified as victims in this case. In a culture with growing distrust for police, the defendant fueled the fire.”

The state asked the court to sentence him to the maximum of 15 years in prison.

“Incarcerated inmates, whether in a jail or a prison, have the right to be safe, especially from the corrections staff,” Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck said after the sentencing. “This defendant took advantage of his position and authority as a corrections officer and sexually assaulted the victims.”

Villella told the court Thursday during a sentencing hearing that he takes full responsibility and wanted an opportunity to move on. A sentencing memorandum filed by the defense says that Villella’s “life has a positive trajectory” and that his conduct was “less serious than conduct normally constituting the offense.”

“This is not a circumstance that involved any force, nor did Mr. Villella perform (a sex act) on the victims,” the defense memorandum says. “In fact, although disputed, Mr. Villella contends that both victims pursued him and the act was consensual.”

The memorandum says that Villella realizes that consent is not a defense and that he is “truly remorseful for his actions.” Defense attorney Mark Wieczorek declined to comment when reached by the Dayton Daily News on Thursday.

Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Gerald Parker said what Villella did was more than a mistake.

“You took advantage of these vulnerable women who were already at a low point in their lives,” Parker said. “You became a corrections officer in, I believe, in July, and by December you’re being indicted for these offenses. It’s almost as if you sought this position to fulfill some sexual desire.”

Along with being sentenced to five years in prison, Villella was also ordered to register as a Tier III sex offender. Tier III offenders must verify their address every 90 days for the rest of their lives.