Aged shopkeepsentenced to jail for molestation

An 88-year-old Menlo Park antique storeowner, who admitted to groping a 14-year-old female customer, was given a 120-day jail sentence Thursday despite his attorney’s pleas that jail time “could kill” him.

Bela Joseph Demeter, owner of Demeter Antique Store on Oak Grove Avenue, was arrested in July 2006 after he was caught attempting to grope and kiss a young-looking Menlo Park undercover officer.

Police planned the sting after a teenage girl filed a complaint with police that Demeter cornered her, put his tongue in her mouth and grabbed her breast.

In April, Demeter agreed to a plea deal on one felony charge of child molestation on the condition that his sentence is served in county jail instead of state prison. Demeter’s attorney, George Eshoo, sought probation Wednesday, claiming that jail time would jeopardize Demeter’s health.

“The time he already spent in jail — which was 42 days or so — almost killed him,” he said. “Another 30 or 40 days could literally kill him.”

The judge’s ruling, however, allows Demeter to apply for the sheriff’s work program, which is an alternative to incarceration and requires daily community service.

Eshoo said Demeter needs counseling rather than jail time.

“It’s a sad situation. He lives alone and he is by himself most of the time,” Eshoo said.

Demeter is out of custody on $250,000 bail and was ordered to report to county jail Sept. 8 if the county sheriff’s work program denies his application. He was also ordered to enter a sex offender program.

bfoley@examiner.com

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