TAMPA — A former Bloomingdale High School teacher pleaded guilty Thursday to more than 300 criminal charges connected to allegations that he secretly recorded hundreds of videos of students undressing.
Mark William Ackett, 52, who taught fashion design classes and coached girls track at the Valrico campus, admitted his guilt in more than 300 counts of video voyeurism. Images of 124 students and an adult teacher were captured in the videos.
The defendant appeared in a virtual court hearing Thursday afternoon in a gray suit and blue tie, sitting before a set of Venetian blinds. As Hillsborough Circuit Judge Laura Ward asked a series of questions to ensure he understood the consequences of his guilty plea, Ackett responded in a soft voice: “Yes, your honor.”
When a prosecutor read a summary of his crimes, Ackett lowered his gaze and closed his eyes.
In September 2018, a 17-year-old student was changing clothes in a dressing area inside a fashion design classroom and noticed a box on a shelf with a light coming from it. Inside, she found a cell phone that appeared to be recording. She found a second cell phone and told the school principal, who notified the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
When deputies questioned Ackett, he admitted he had been recording students without their knowledge. The recordings began in January 2017 and ended when he was arrested.
Upon his arrest, Ackett quit his job. He had worked for the Hillsborough school district since 1991. He had previously served as an assistant principal at Bloomingdale High and as an attendance supervisor in the district office.
Ackett was re-arrested a month later after investigators examined his phone, internet accounts and computers and found hundreds more videos and pictures of his female students undressing. The videos also captured Ackett accessing the phones, placing and positioning them to record.
Further charges came in early 2019 after investigators examined more of Ackett’s electronic devices. They found additional voyeuristic images taken at Ackett’s Plant City home. They depicted three girls who were younger than 16 and two adults in various states of undress, prosecutors said.
Ackett entered what’s known as an open plea, which means he will leave it to the judge to decide his penalty. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. He is set to be sentenced on May 10.
He will have an opportunity to argue for a more lenient sentence. His victims will also get the chance to have their say.
Several young women attended the Zoom court hearing Thursday.
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Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said he did not yet know what sentence the state would seek, that the focus until now was securing Ackett’s conviction. The county’s top prosecutor called it a strong case, saying Ackett had “no way out.”
“I have two daughters,” Warren said. “As a father, I’m not sure what I can say to the victims to give back what Ackett took away from them. At least as of today we’ve delivered to them justice that they deserve.”