A former Pekin man was sentenced Friday to six years in prison for having sex with a 14-year-old girl he’d met through their church.

Daniel Vela Jr., 43, avoided harsher punishment when prosecutors dismissed charges of criminal sexual assault in exchange for his guilty plea to aggravated criminal sexual abuse, punishable by up to seven years. He had no prior felony record.

Vela Jr., however, could remain incarcerated for years more of therapy if a psychological examination determines him to be a sexually dangerous or violent person. He must also register for life as a sexual offender.

The charges were filed last April, 17 months after the girl’s mother told police that Vela Jr. had confessed his sexual relationship with the girl to her, according to a prosecutor’s court affidavit.
The mother and daughter had met Vela Jr., now of Chicago suburb Homer Glen, through the church the three attended in Pekin. Through 2015, with her mother’s knowledge, the girl spent increasing time at Vela Jr.’s home, caring for his wife, the affidavit stated. The mother eventually grew suspicious of the her daughter’s relationship with him.

She called police in November of that year to report her daughter had left a note saying she was running run away from home. Acting on her advice, officers found the girl at Vela Jr.’s residence.

The mother then called Vela Jr. who, in a conversation overheard by the mother’s sister, said he and the girl had sex several times that month, the affidavit stated.

The girl also told police of how what began as a father-daughter relationship had grown into a sexual one, the affidavit stated.

Vela Jr., who had remained free on bond since he was charged, will serve at least three years of the sentence. He also was ordered to pay $2,370 in restitution to an advocacy agency that provides counseling for children.

Follow Michael Smothers at Twitter.com/msmotherspekin