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Fired DCF employee pleads guilty to lying to authorities investigating child porn case

TAMPA — A former Florida Department of Children and Families employee pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to lying to authorities investigating the agency's spokesman on child pornography charges.

Michael Hernandez of Tallahassee initially lied to FBI agents when they questioned him last year about then-DCF spokesman Al Zimmerman.

Zimmerman has since pleaded guilty to producing child porn and faces a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison when he is sentenced April 23.

For his offense, Hernandez, a recent Florida State University graduate, faces up to five years in prison. A sentencing date hasn't been set.

Hernandez didn't know about the child porn allegations against Zimmerman until after the investigation, his attorney said.

But in his plea, Hernandez admits lying to FBI investigators about tampering with Zimmerman's work laptop and home computer. Hernandez worked as a computer technician for the DCF, and Zimmerman, 41, cultivated an out-of-office relationship with him, prosecutors said.

The DCF fired both men once it learned details of the investigation.

Zimmerman asked Hernandez to destroy files on his computers when he became concerned about a background check after applying for a job with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, according to court records.

Hernandez obliged, then tossed Zimmerman's home computer in a Tallahassee trash bin. The two had a sexual relationship, Hernandez told authorities, and Hernandez said he had a key to Zimmerman's house. When the two met, Zimmerman was 39 and Hernandez was 23.

Ethan Way, Hernandez's attorney, said Hernandez began telling the truth to investigators after about 45 minutes. Hernandez then spent the next 10 days, Way said, calling them to give them more details about his involvement.

Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Fired DCF employee pleads guilty to lying to authorities investigating child porn case 03/05/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 6, 2009 12:04am]
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