Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Public safety

St. Petersburg-based American Airlines pilot faces federal child porn charges

TAMPA — A federal judge denied bail Friday to a longtime American Airlines pilot accused of possessing and distributing child pornography, noting that he is "literally" a flight risk.

Donald Edwin Gallagher Jr., 51, was booked into jail Wednesday after an FBI task force served a search warrant at his St. Petersburg home, confiscating a Toshiba laptop.

"He admitted to using the current program to search for pornography and initially claimed that he accidentally downloaded child pornography, but later stated that he downloaded and viewed child pornography out of curiosity," according to a federal complaint.

Gallagher has no prior criminal record, but if convicted he could face 10 to 12 years in prison because of the number and nature of images and videos found, Assistant U.S. Attorney Josephine Thomas told Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Jenkins.

Thomas reported that investigators found 85 videos and 300 to 600 images of child pornography.

The pilot flies international routes to Europe, South America and Central America, Thomas said.

He has an infant child with a woman in Peru, two teens with another in El Salvador and two adult children in South Florida.

His arrest Wednesday interrupted a planned personal trip to Peru, Thomas said.

"There's no reason for him to come back to the United States if he's able to leave," Thomas said.

She described assets that include several unencumbered vehicles and a paid-off home near Weedon Island worth about $472,000, according to property records. Gallagher earns $10,000 a month as a pilot, Thomas said, and recently sold several properties in South Florida each valued at more than $200,000.

Gallagher has lived in the St. Petersburg area for 2½ years, according to Federal Public Defender Donna Lee Elm, who represented him Friday because he has not yet hired private counsel.

Before his 22-year airline career, he served in the Air Force, she said.

He has no history of "acting out" on impulses beyond viewing porn, she said, concluding that he is no danger to the community.

In making a case for bail, she said Gallagher could take a leave of absence or change to domestic routes. He could wear an ankle monitor. He could talk to his children by phone instead of leaving the country.

But the judge said she didn't feel comfortable granting bail, given that Gallagher faces significant prison time, has family outside the United States and enjoys "extreme mobility."

"This is a significant amount of child pornography obtained by the search warrant, both in terms of images and in terms of videos," she said.

The investigating began in January, after authorities said Gallagher visited a computer network used to trade child porn.

Some of the files had been accessed as recently as Tuesday, officials wrote.

"Mr. Gallagher will be withheld from service pending the outcome of the investigation," an American Airlines spokesperson said in a statement Friday.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

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