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Athol man pleads guilty in federal child porn case



Recorder Staff
Friday, May 19, 2017

ATHOL — An Athol man pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to possession of child pornography, five months after asking a judge to throw out the case, insisting the government distributed pornographic content when it seized a child porn website and operated it for a couple of weeks as part of its investigation.

Arthur Cummings, 49, appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Timothy S. Hillman in Worcester. Cummings is scheduled for sentencing on July 11.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, federal agents executed a search warrant at Cummings’ home on March 10, 2016, based on an investigation into individuals who use software to find child pornography on the “dark web,” a part of the internet accessible only by special software allowing users to remain anonymous. A forensic review of a laptop seized from Cummings’ home yielded more than 10 videos of child pornography and more than 100 images, according to the department.

The charging statute allows for a sentence of not greater than 20 years in prison, a minimum of five years and up to a lifetime of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentences are imposed based upon federal sentencing guidelines and other factors.

On Dec. 14, 2016, Cummings filed in U.S. District Court a motion to suppress evidence and a motion to dismiss, through his lawyer, Timothy G. Watkins. The motion to suppress claimed the FBI illegally installed malware on his computer and the motion to dismiss cited “outrageous government conduct” as grounds for dismissal. Cummings said the FBI distributed child pornography from the Playpen website it seized in January 2015 and controlled between Feb. 19 and March 4 of that year.

“The unprecedented nature and scope of the FBI’s distribution of contraband in connection with this case has no legal justification or excuse and offends common standards of decency,” the motion stated.

The government argued it had a judge’s authorization to install a “network investigative technique” for its investigation and it operated the website to obstruct “the use of emerging technologies to facilitate the creation, distribution and consumption of child pornography” and to identify people engaging in these activities. According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark J. Grady, the use of the technique had also led to the identification or rescue from abuse of 38 children as of July 2016.

Grady said the government had no reason to suspect Cummings of criminal behavior when it seized Playpen, but it had ample reason to believe any member of the site could be actively viewing or sharing child pornography. Cummings was part of Playpen’s membership.