Friday, February 8, 2008

System sweeps up janitor

He may still be prosecuted on State charges.

Judge gives ex-janitor 10-year sentence
By David Saleh Rauf

SAN ANTONIO — Barry Craig Nielsen told a federal judge Thursday that the reality of serving prison time caused him to cut off his ankle monitor and jump bond just days before he was to be sentenced for possessing child pornography. “I’m ashamed of what I did. I never imagined I would go to prison for anything, but I know I deserve it,” the former Comal Independent School District janitor told U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, a reference to his guilty plea to possessing about 13,000 images and 350 video files showing children engaging in sex acts. “I deeply regret my crime. I’m ready to accept whatever punishment you feel is just,” Nielsen said.

Shackled at the feet with hands clenched behind his back, the former Smithson Valley Middle School janitor asked Garcia for leniency and said he wants to receive treatment to fight his addiction to pornography.

Garcia expressed no sympathy for Nielsen, rejecting a call by his defense lawyer to sentence Nielsen to no more than 41 months in prison. Instead, with Nielsen acknowledging he erred by jumping bond, the judge sentenced the former 23-year CISD employee to 10 years in prison and supervised release for life, both maximum punishments for one federal count of possessing child pornography. “He’s obviously not accepted responsibility,” Garcia said, “and he obviously absconded.”

Nielsen, 55, will not be eligible for parole under federal sentencing guidelines, his lawyer, Matthew Kyle said. Kyle said Thursday’s sentence did not come as a surprise. “Once he made the poor choice of absconding, the ground work was laid out for the sentence today,” he said.

Nielsen was arrested in February 2006 after federal agents conducting an online investigation found him logged on to Internet peer-to-peer file exchange sites offering child pornography. Undercover agents downloaded two videos with images of child pornography from Nielsen’s IP address and secured a federal search warrant for his Bulverde home. Court records say federal and local agents who conducted the search found 13,015 image files and 354 video files with child pornography on computers, video tapes, external hard drives and compact discs stored in

Nielsen’s bedroom. Federal agents also seized one computer from Nielsen’s school office. He was fired by CISD shortly after his arrest.

At the time, he was a custodial supervisor as Smithson Valley Middle School, where he had worked for 18 years. CISD officials said Nielsen’s arrest had nothing to do with his work. “The justice system has determined his fate and now we will all move forward,” said CISD spokesperson Kari Hutchison. Nielsen was released from jail in March 2006 and pleaded guilty to a federal count of possession of child pornography one year later. He was placed under electronic surveillance but jumped bond in August 2007, four days before his scheduled sentencing. Federal authorities monitoring Nielsen’s ankle bracelet found the device on his kitchen table and the rest of his monitoring equipment still plugged in to the charger, according to court documents.

He was re-arrested in October by U.S. Marshals while trying to cash in a retirement fund in Austin. He has been detained in a federal correctional facility in San Antonio since. On Thursday, Kyle argued that Nielsen’s fragile emotional state at the time — his sister was hospitalized — and fear of imprisonment led him to cut off the ankle monitor. Kyle said Nielsen never reneged acceptance for the crimes he committed.

But U.S. Assistant District Attorney Don Calvert said “it would be disingenuous to say he’s accepted responsibility when he cut off his ankle monitor and fled the state of Texas.” Wearing a prison-issued dark-blue jumpsuit and a short haircut, Nielsen walked out of the courtroom after receiving a maximum sentence with his head down.

Outside the courthouse, Kyle described Nielsen as a “quiet, closet sinner,” who never acted out his addiction by participating in images or videos of child pornography. “It’s all been very difficult on him,” he said, “but he’ll make his own peace with it.”