Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Russell Christie III Sentenced to 90 years for Distributing Child Porn

When Russell Christie III was convicted last November of moderating and posting images to website that distributed child pornography, he was facing a 30-year prison term.

But today, after listening to testimony from a woman who said she had been molested by the former Sussex County school bus driver for nearly a decade when she was a child, a federal judge in Newark tripled the sentence, ordering Christie to serve 90 years behind bars.

In imposing the sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Ackerman said he wanted to make sure Christie would never harm another child and also send a message to others who would try to sexually abuse or exploit a child.

Ackerman said he was mindful not only of the abuse the woman said she had endured, but also of the children depicted in the images Christie, 51, helped distribute around the world.

"The defendant's cheap thrill came at a considerable cost," Ackerman said. "The thousands of nameless children that appear in his images now strive to have a semblance of life."

Christie, who also worked at the Green Valley Beach Campground in Newton, was arrested in 2006 and charged with moderating a website that trafficked in child pornography. Prosecutors say the site had several hundred members worldwide.

He was convicted late last year and under federal sentencing guidelines, faced 30 years in prison.

That was until the woman, identified by prosecutors as "Victim 1," was allowed to testify today. Prosecutors maintained that that woman's testimony would establish a pattern of behavior that would warrant a life sentence for Christie.

The woman, now 28, said her encounters with Christie began when she was 9 and lived next to the campground. She said he would invite her to his home to play video games - invitations, she said, that at the time seemed innocent.

But the video game sessions soon turned to fondling, she said. By the time she was 12, Christie was plying her with alcohol and drugs in order to have sex with her and to take nude photographs of her, she said.

When her contact with him ended when she was 19, the woman said, she was heroin junkie who would travel to Newark and Paterson to buy drugs with money and transportation Christie provided in exchange for sex, she said.

"He turned me into a drug addict - a lot of hurt, a lot of pain," said the woman, who broke down several times on the witness stand. "It has destroyed any relationship that I could have with any man."

Ackerman overruled arguments by defense attorneys that Christie was never convicted for having sex with an underage victim, but rather for possessing and distributing child pornography, and making 2,500 posts to the website between October 2005 and July 2006. The posts, authorities said, depicted images and stories of children engaged in sexual acts with adults.

The judge said Christie was a unique convict, who was not just a mere voyeur of downloadable images, but also acted out the sexual deviance he was viewing.

"This court has a solemn duty, not only in dealing fairly with Mr. Christie, but in dealing fairly with the testimony of a young woman who obviously went through things that she'd rather forget about," Ackerman said, glaring at Christie and pointing his finger at him. "I will not be blind to the severe misconduct that appears before me today."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Vartan said that without the woman's testimony, Christie would have been sentenced to a maximum of 30 years. Her story, Vartan said, established for the court a pattern of sexual abuse and exploitation against a minor that the judge was able to consider when imposing sentence.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Lorraine Gauli-Rufo, the woman admitted she never told anyone about the alleged abuse. Gauli-Rufo also tried to strike at her credibility based on her history of drug use, criminal record, a teenage pregnancy (not by Christie) and that she had not reported the abuse after Christie was charged.

Vartan said Christie was the root cause of the woman's behavior, and that he admitted to authorities that he had had sexual contact with the victim.

Christie was one of 22 people in 20 states arrested in July 2006 as part of an FBI child pornography sweep called "Project Safe Childhood."

Thousands of pornographic images involving children were found on his computer and on hundreds of digital CDs that were confiscated by authorities, Vartan said.

None of the images was of the woman who testified today. She said Christie began photographing her when she was 12, in various states of undress. The more than 1,000 images of her, however, were taken with a Polaroid camera. Despite a painstakingly thorough search, none of the images were recovered, Vartan said.

Before he was sentenced, Christie asked Ackerman for a new trial, contending that his constitutional rights had been violated. The motion was denied.

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