A U.S. judge has tacked an additional nine years onto a former motivational speaker's prison sentence for child pornography after the court learned that letters calling for leniency were fakes, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.
U.S. District Judge Jimm Larry Hendren of the Western District of Arkansas on Friday sentenced Michael Fortino, who is 47, to 20 years in prison for transporting child pornography. Hendren had originally sentenced Fortino to 11 years and three months in prison -- the low end of the federal sentencing guidelines range under the charge -- after Fortino had presented a number of letters and e-mail messages to the court asking for leniency.
Fortino, a motivational speaker who had traveled across the U.S., was arrested after he took a laptop into a Best Buy Co. store in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for service in November 2005. Technicians there found several images of apparent child pornography and alerted local police, the DOJ said.
Before his Oct. 2 sentencing hearing, Fortino provided the U.S. Probation Office with a number of communications that seemingly vouched for his character, requested leniency, and expressed support for him, the DOJ said.
One such document was an e-mail reportedly authored by a victim's father, in response to an alleged letter of repentance the victim's parents supposedly received from Fortino. In the e-mail, the victim's family claimed, among other things, that they were moved by Fortino's sincerity and that they believed he had "found repentance." The e-mail said the family forgave him and would pray that he was "given every consideration for leniency."
A second document -- purportedly written by an Arkansas woman with whom Fortino had fathered a child -- characterized Fortino as "a good and decent man" who had been "honest and upfront." The writer claimed that Fortino had "accepted full responsibility for his actions" and was "truly remorseful." The second letter also concluded with the request that the court consider giving Fortino leniency.
Fortino presented the court with several similar letters, appearing to have come from various sources, all of them advocating for leniency in his case, the DOJ said.
Shortly after the sentencing hearing, authorities were contacted by the Arkansas woman, who inquired about the Oct. 2 sentence. After speaking with the woman, authorities determined that the communications Fortino submitted were likely fabricated.
Contrary to what her purported letter claimed, the Arkansas woman reported that she actually wanted Fortino to be sentenced to the maximum penalty available under law, the DOJ said.
In the new sentence, the judge ordered Fortino to pay a US$250,000 fine and serve a lifetime of supervised release. Fortino had originally been ordered to serve 20 years of supervised release and pay a $10,000 fine.
When police had originally looked at Fortino's laptop, they found that he had visited Web sites containing images of child pornography on multiple occasions and often saved images from those sites to his computer. Hundreds of images of child pornography -- some of which involved infants -- were found on the laptop, the DOJ said.
Authorities also discovered video files that Fortino made using a hidden video camera he placed in a small room on his boat. The videos depicted girls between the ages of 11 and 16 changing clothes and unaware that they were exposing themselves. Fortino refused to help identify these victims, but investigators were eventually able to identify three of them.
The case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative designed to protect children from online exploitation and abuse.