Ex-Philly official pleads guilty to child porn charges

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Grant Shea, former health and human services program manager at the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management.

A former Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management manager pleaded guilty to child pornography charges Monday at a federal court hearing that was closed to the public by the judge at the prosecutor’s request.

Grant Shea, 30, of South Philadelphia, the office’s health and human services program manager for five months until he resigned in July 2016, pleaded guilty to all six counts he faced – two each of receipt, possession, and distribution of child pornography, authorities said afterward.

Shea, dressed in a forest-green prison jumpsuit, his hands cuffed behind him, and appearing thin and pale, was led into the courtroom by U.S. marshals. After the nearly hourlong hearing, he was led back through the eighth-floor hallway into custody. His head bowed, he declined to comment.

“He looks forward to putting this behind him and moving on,” said Richard J. Fuschino Jr., who has been representing Shea with lawyer William J. Brennan. Fuschino said they would work on letting the “court know who Grant Shea is outside of this aberration.”

Shea began working at the Office of Emergency Management in May 2012 as a health and medical planning coordinator. He became the office’s health and human services program manager in March 2016. He resigned July 14, 2016, when a federal indictment charged him with one count each of receipt, possession, and distribution of child pornography.

According to the indictment, in April 2016, Shea received and distributed “a visual depiction … of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.” That June, authorities who searched his home found computers that contained child porn.

At his arraignment July 15, 2016, Shea was released and ordered to home confinement on the condition that he not engage in criminal activity.

Later, the FBI, while reviewing evidence seized during an unrelated child pornography investigation, discovered that Shea tried to solicit child porn in November while on house arrest awaiting trial.

After obtaining another warrant, the FBI on Jan. 30 searched Shea’s home again and found a sexual image of a pre-pubescent boy on a smartphone. Federal authorities filed a complaint against Shea that day, charging him with a new count of possession of child porn, and a federal magistrate ordered his bail revoked. He has been in custody at the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center since.

According to the complaint, two laptops seized from Shea’s home in June 2016 contained 1,829 images and 382 videos of child porn, as well as internet chats in which Shea “would solicit other users to trade child pornography with him.”

When the FBI searched Shea’s home in June 2016, Shea said that he had begun viewing and downloading child porn one or two years earlier and that it “started as a fantasy and curiosity when people started sending him links to the files,” the complaint said.

In May, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a second indictment against Shea on the new possession charge and also charged him with receiving and distributing child porn in January.

In court on Monday, U.S. District Judge Nitza Quiñones Alejandro said she was granting a motion by Assistant U.S. Attorney Priya DeSouza to seal the proceeding and ordered a reporter for the Inquirer and Daily News to leave the courtroom despite the reporter’s request to delay it until a lawyer for the newspapers could be contacted. No other reporter was present.

DeSouza did not say why the request was made and declined to discuss it after the hearing.

“The courtroom was closed due to a sensitive matter related to an ongoing investigation,” said Michele Mucellin, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia.

It is unusual for court proceedings to be closed to the public. During federal plea hearings, the prosecutor usually reads a summary of the charges. The defendant then decides whether to agree to the prosecutor’s account and enters a plea.

Jeffrey Lindy, a defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor who is not involved in Shea’s case, said Monday that the threshold for closing a courtroom to the public in a federal proceeding is high.

“The presumption is that courtrooms are open, civil and criminal,” Lindy said. “And what happens in court must be accessible to citizens.”

Lindy said federal court proceedings sometimes are closed to protect a government cooperator or to protect an ongoing investigation.