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Ex-Tampa police officer takes plea deal in child porn case

TAMPA — On Monday, a Valrico man charged with possessing child pornography changed his plea to guilty, ready to take a deal. It happens regularly in U.S. District Court.

But this time, the man was a former Tampa police officer who retired nine days after federal authorities searched his home and seized a computer, saying they found illegal images of children.

Jonathan N. Gamson, 53, was implicated during Operation Gondola, a global effort to take down child predators conducted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

He accessed images through the Internet and stored them on his computer, according to a plea agreement he signed.

"The images of child pornography recovered on the computer depict minors involved in sexually explicit conduct," the plea agreement states. "At least one of the images of child pornography involves an image of a baby."

Gamson declined to comment Monday, as did his attorney, Robert Herce.

Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy, contacted by the Tampa Bay Times, issued this statement from the department:

"Jon Gamson suddenly resigned from the department in May of 2011. To learn he was engaged in criminal activity is an enormous sense of betrayal and the nature of his crimes makes it even worse. It is a mammoth fall from the high standards that the Tampa Police Department represents. We will take the necessary steps to ensure he never works in law enforcement again."

Gamson was employed as a Tampa police officer on the dates when the government says the images were accessed.

His Tampa police career began Aug. 11, 1986, and ended May 20, 2011.

On May 11, 2011, agents searched the home he shares with his wife after finding evidence that the Internet address had been used in 2010 to access child pornography.

A forensic analysis of the seized Hewlett-Packard Pavilion computer found five distinct images, one dating to Aug. 21, 2006, the record states.

On the day of the search, he told officers that someone had been "hacking into his Internet connection and leaving images on his computers," it states.

The quantity of porn found on the computer was minimal compared with caches — at times reaching 75,000 images — found with other defendants caught during Operation Gondola.

Gamson initially faced three charges of possession of child pornography and an additional charge relating to the destruction of records. He was indicted Oct. 23, arrested the next day and freed on $35,000 bail. He initially pleaded not guilty.

In the plea agreement, he admitted to one count of possession. Prosecutors agreed to drop the other three charges.

Gamson appeared Monday before Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Jenkins and she accepted his guilty plea. But it will be up to U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven to adjudicate him and impose a sentence. That won't occur until a presentence investigation is finished.

Gamson has no prior arrests in the state, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records.

His personnel file was not available but over the course of a 25-year career, bits of his work have wound up in news stories.

In 2006, he was clearing Seminole Heights of prostitutes. In 2003, he made sergeant. In 1997, he was coordinating a community policing program. In 1995, he aired frustration over domestic violence victims who balk at testifying.

And back in the 1990s, he was seeking recognition for a Tampa police program aimed at identifying sex offenders.

Now, by terms of the plea agreement, he will have to register as one.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and up to a $250,000 fine.

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Michael LaForgia contributed to this report. Patty Ryan can be reached at pryan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3382.

Ex-Tampa police officer takes plea deal in child porn case 02/04/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 12:06am]

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