Former Maryland Licensed Counselor Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Sexually Exploit an Infant
Federal Search Warrant for Email and Analysis of Cell Phone Lead to Prosecution for Abuse of Helpless Infant; Defendant Agrees to a 35 Year Prison Sentence
Baltimore, Maryland – Stephen H. Schaffner, age 34, of Greensboro, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to sexually exploit a child and sexual exploiting a child, arising from the sexual abuse of a six week old baby who was born prematurely.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; United States Attorney for the Southern District of California Laura E. Duffy; Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Vogt of the Federal Bureau of Investigation - Maryland; Acting Special Agent in Charge Robert Howe of the Federal Bureau of Investigation – San Diego Division; Colonel William M. Pallozzi, Superintendent of the Maryland State Police; Chief Jeff A. Jackson of the Greensboro Police Department and Chief David A. Spencer of the Easton Police Department.
“Thankfully, most technology companies continue to honor federal search warrants and most cellular phones can be searched with a warrant,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “If telecommunications companies provide software and hardware that is immune from federal search warrants, pedophiles will be free to commit such egregious crimes with little risk of detection.”
According to his plea agreement, for over four years, Schaffner was a licensed associate counselor in Arizona, providing behavioral health and education services for children ages 11-17 whose lives and family relationships were in crisis, or who were struggling with mental health or substance abuse challenges.
Schaffner worked as a clinician in Easton, Maryland for 18 months, providing individual and family mental health counseling, including treatment for children and for sex offenders. In 2011 and 2012, Schaffner attended trainings and conferences focused on the assessment, management and treatment of sex offenders. On October 30, 2012, Schaffner sent an adult counseling client inappropriate text messages of a sexual nature. In November 2012, Schaffner was fired from the practice where he worked, and his license was later suspended.
Beginning in 2004, Schaffner collected child pornography he obtained from the internet. Thousands of images and videos of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct were located on digital devices, storage media and online accounts seized from Schaffner. In his electronic communications, Schaffner repeatedly expressed a sexual interest in boys from “age zero” up, and his desire to commit violent sexual abuse against infants, including making the children cry during the abuse, and injuring or killing children in the course of sexual abuse. He discussed ways to ensure that the children did not report the abuse, including drugging or killing the children.
In late June 2014, Schaffner began communicating online with Michael Lutts who lived in California and worked as a pediatric nurse at a hospital in San Diego County. On August 4, 2014, Lutts brought to his home a six week old baby boy, born prematurely, who was placed in his care as a foster child. That evening, Lutts texted Schaffner images of the infant.
Over the next several hours, Schaffner exchanged numerous graphic and sexually explicit messages with Lutts about Lutts sexually abusing the infant. Schaffner directed Lutts to sexually abuse the infant to produce photos and videos. Lutts sent Schaffner images and videos with the infant, including images of the infant being sexually molested. Schaffner and Lutts discussed Schaffner travelling to San Diego to rape the infant.
Law enforcement obtained a federal search warrant in April 2014 for an email address of a person who was distributing child pornography, which led them to other suspects who were transmitting child pornography. On August 26, 2014, authorities obtained a search warrant for Michael William Lutts’s residence in San Diego, and seized a cell phone that contained images and videos of Lutts sexually molesting the infant. Michael Lutts has pleaded guilty in federal court in the Southern District of California to three counts of sexual exploitation of a child and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 20, 2015.
As part of his plea agreement, Schaffner must register as a sex offender in the place where he resides, where he is an employee, and where he is a student, under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).
Schaffner and the government have agreed that if the Court accepts the plea agreement Schaffner will be sentenced to 35 years in prison followed by up to a lifetime of supervised release. U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz scheduled sentencing for July 9, 2015 at 10:00 a.m.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys' Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc. For more information about internet safety education, please visit www.justice.gov/psc and click on the "resources" tab on the left of the page.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the FBI’s Baltimore and San Diego offices, the Maryland State Police Interstate Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC), the San Diego, California ICAC, Greensboro Police Department, and Easton Police Department for their work in the investigation and prosecution. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Alessandra P. Serano from the Southern District of California who is prosecuting the case against Michael Lutts, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Myers from Maryland, who is prosecuting the case against Stephen Schaffner.