Thursday, February 22, 2018
Public safety

Pinellas teacher facing child pornography charges

A Pinellas County elementary school teacher was arrested Friday after deputies found child pornography on his home computer, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

John Kaneski, 42, who has taught at at least three Pinellas County elementary schools since 1994, faces 10 counts of possession of child pornography after investigators executed a search warrant Friday morning at his Dunedin home, authorities said.

This isn't the first time Kaneski, who teaches at Cross Bayou Elementary School in Pinellas Park, has come under suspicion.

In 2005, while teaching at Curlew Creek Elementary in Palm Harbor, Kaneski became the subject of a sheriff's investigation after an 8-year-old student at the school claimed he had touched her inappropriately, authorities said. The girl later recanted and the case was dropped.

That investigation was reopened recently after the child pornography allegations came to light.

Deputies also are investigating an allegation that Kaneski had inappropriate contact with at least one other 8-year-old girl, officials said. It was unclear if that girl was a student of Kaneski's.

A married father of a 9-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl, Kaneski is accused of downloading at least seven videos showing girls between 8 and 12 years old engaged in various sex acts with adult men, officials said. Deputies also found one video of two young girls engaging in sex acts with each other in addition to numerous other pornographic still images of children.

"He admitted to detectives that he has been doing this for years," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said at a news conference. "He couldn't even tell us how many years he's been doing this because it's been so long."

Kaneski teaches English as a Second Language classes at Cross Bayou, officials said. In addition to Curlew Creek, he also previously taught at Wal­singham Elementary in Largo.

None of the images on Kaneski's computer is believed to be students of his or other local children, Gualtieri said.

"We don't have any information that he was producing (child pornography)," Gualtieri said. "But we would describe him as a person who was very hard core into it."

Donna Winchester, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County school district, said she was not able to access Kaneski's personnel file Friday because the district was closed for winter break. She was also unable to answer whether he had taught at additional schools or why he moved from one school to the next. Records indicate that Kaneski was first hired by the district in 1994.

Kaneski was held Friday in lieu of $200,000 bail.

If Kaneski gets out of jail, he would at a minimum be assigned to a position in the school district where he would not have contact with children, Winchester said. She said school officials will closely follow the sheriff's investigation and begin their own review.

Detectives with the sheriff's crimes against children unit began investigating Kaneski on Nov. 19, Gualtieri said. Using specialized software, they found that an Internet connection in Kaneski's home was being used to download child pornography and share it with other people via the Internet. Deputies obtained a search warrant for the home and carried it out Friday morning.

The investigation was part of a renewed effort by the Sheriff's Office to combat child pornography, Gualtieri said.

"It's going to be a focus of what we do here this year," the sheriff said. "It's a very serious problem and we're seeing more and more of it."

A voicemail message left on Kaneski's home phone was not returned. No one answered his door Friday afternoon.

A holiday wreath hung from the front door of his handsome ranch-style house, which sits in a subdivision west of Bayshore Boulevard in Dunedin. A minivan with a car seat was parked in the driveway.

"It's just a very sad situation," said Elizabeth Robertson, who said she has lived across the street from Kaneski for more than a decade. "Could you imagine? He's a teacher. He has two small children."

Robertson said she and her neighbors were perplexed when sheriff's deputies streamed into the ordinarily quiet neighborhood on Friday morning, then astonished when they learned of the allegations.

"It was really shocking," said neighbor Ann Shaw, adding that judgment should be reserved because Kaneski has only been charged, not convicted. "He always said hello. He seemed very friendly."

Times staff writers Kameel Stanley and Curtis Krueger contributed to this report. Dan Sullivan can be reached at (727) 893-8321 or [email protected]

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