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Pinellas teacher accused of swapping child porn

CLEARWATER — A Pinellas schoolteacher was arrested at his home Thursday, accused of trading and possessing child pornography.

Aaron J. Stewart, 28, became the first person in Tampa Bay to be ensnared by the attorney general's CyberCrime Task Force, which partners local, state and federal authorities.

Investigators came across Stewart online when they noticed he was trading files of what they said was child pornography. They traced the files back to his computer at home and executed a search warrant there Thursday.

Authorities said Stewart admitted to the crimes.

According to jail affidavits, Stewart's videos depicted girls — as young as 7 years old — engaged in sex acts with men.

Stewart faces charges on nine counts of sexual performance of a minor-possession.

Anytime someone who has regular contact with children is arrested on child pornography charges, "one would have to be significantly worried," said Maureen Horkan, director of the state's Child Predator CyberCrimes Unit.

But Chuck McMullen, chief of law enforcement for the unit, said there was no indication the children in the images were Stewart's pupils.

Stewart was hired in August 2007 to teach music at Sexton, Shore Acres, Pinellas Central and Sawgrass Lake elementary schools. He was granted a voluntary transfer to Clearwater Intermediate School, an alternative school for children at risk for dropping out, where he was scheduled to begin work Aug. 11.

The district was unaware that Stewart was under investigation and learned of the arrest early Thursday morning, said spokeswoman Andrea Zahn.

Stewart will be placed on administrative leave with pay pending an internal investigation, she said. He had no record of misbehavior in the district.

Stewart was being held at the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $180,000 bail.

As of Oct. 1, people convicted of possession or distribution of Florida-based child pornography can also be sued in civil court by the victims. That's when Florida's Exploited Children's Rights Act goes into effect, allowing the Attorney General's Office to pursue the cases on behalf of the victims at their request.

Also on Thursday, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa announced that Scott Wiegand, 43, of Largo has been indicted on one count of possession of child pornography. Wiegand faces up to 20 years if he's convicted. Federal prosecutors said he had possessed and received numerous items containing images of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct from at least February 2007.

Times staff writer Donna Winchester contributed to this report.

Pinellas teacher accused of swapping child porn 07/31/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 6, 2008 3:39pm]
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