A Costa Mesa man was found guilty Tuesday of sex crimes against 17 children he was hired to care for between 2014 and 2019, charges that could land him in prison.
Prosecutors said Matthew Zakrzewski, 34, lured parents into his babysitting service and then sexually abused the children entrusted to his care. The victims were between 2 and 12 years old.
“The defendant was masterful in taking advantage of these families, not only grooming the children but the parents as well,” the deputy district attorney said. Lawyer. Juliet Oliver told the jury.
The prosecution’s case was bolstered by a huge trove of photographs and videos Zakrzewski had taken of himself sexually abusing children. He obsessively recorded his crimes and kept the collection “like a treasure, like a kind of medal,” Oliver said.
An Orange County jury convicted Zakrzewski of 34 counts of sex crimes, including lewd and lascivious acts on children and possession of child pornography, after a three-week trial in Santa Ana. Prosecutors said he sexually abused 16 of them. children and showed pornography to the 17th.
During his years as a freelance nanny, Zakrzewski advertised himself as especially skilled with children with special needs, making him attractive to parents who desperately needed help.
A Laguna Beach woman whose 8-year-old son was sexually abused by Zakrzewski testified that her son had disruptive mood dysregulation disorder and that Zakrzewski seemed kind and patient. She was impressed by the photos she had posted online of himself playing with children.
“He seemed like a lot of joy,” the mother said, adding that “there were a lot of reviews saying he was a wonderful caregiver.” He told her that he understood children with emotional difficulties and knew how to redirect their attention when they had crises.
In some cases, prosecutor Oliver told jurors, victims “truly loved the defendant” and endured sexual abuse “without even knowing it was wrong.”
In one case, a 7-year-old boy he had sexually abused burst into tears when a forensic interviewer showed him Zakrzewski’s photograph. The boy was sad because “the person he believes was his friend, his partner, his mentor” would no longer care for him, the prosecutor said.
The investigation began in May 2019 when a Laguna Beach family told police that Zakrzewski had inappropriately touched their son. The police soon found many more victims.
“He fooled everyone,” Oliver told jurors in his closing argument Monday. “He deceived all the parents. He deceived all the children. And he deceived all the victims.”
Zakrzewski spent “years of grooming, normalizing and perfecting the art of sexually exploiting these children,” the prosecutor said. “In this case, he hunted down all the children. He had an instruction book about it. But he could have written the book on it, from what you’ve seen in this case.”
Orange County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Menninger will sentence Zakrzewski on Nov. 17.