Saturday, January 25, 2014
Just eight days after he became Mount Pleasant’s top cop, Police Chief Brian Fanelli’s career was unraveling over the Internet.
And as tech savvy as he was, he almost certainly didn’t realize it.
Fanelli, 54, was suspended with pay from his $135,518-a-year job after Department of Homeland Security agents raided his Mahopac home Thursday, seizing two computers. A 10-page complaint charging the 31-year cop with possession of child pornography says the computers contained 126 graphic video and photo files of children as young as 7 engaging in sex acts with adults and other children.
A volunteer catechism teacher for eight years at Shrub Oak’s St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, Fanelli also lectured more than 1,000 parish schoolchildren on staying safe from sexual abuse and “the pitfalls of social media, games and computer applications.” He was removed from his position after his arrest was announced.
Be assured that Mr. Fanelli will no longer be permitted to serve as a catechist,” wrote Sara Koshofer, of the church education program, in a letter posted on the parish website.
Alyssa Monteleone of Yorktown Heights, who attended Fanelli’s “Safe Environment” class at the church with her 7-year-old son, said he taught the children about boundaries and good and bad touches. When he asked whom they would talk to if they were in an uncomfortable situation, she said, many of the kids said they would tell police.
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“I thought it was a great thing that a police chief would come in and talk to the children, someone that they could trust. So to find this is out is shocking,” she said Friday. “It’s a hard concept to wrap your head around.”
Fanelli did not enter a plea during his arraignment before a U.S. magistrate late Thursday. He was released on $50,000 bond after the case was adjourned to Feb. 19.
The federal criminal complaint details how Fanelli was snared by investigators trolling peer-to-peer file-sharing networks for “hash values” of known images of child pornography. Peer-to-peer networks — also known as “P2P networks” — let users collect and share files containing music, graphics, images and movies.
“Because of their relative ease of use and perceived anonymity, many P2P networks provide readily available access to child pornography,” the federal complaint said.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children maintains a registry of files identified in prior investigations as containing child-porn images. The center also stores the files’ hash values — often described as digital fingerprints because they uniquely identify the contents even if the file name is changed. When child-pornography images are copied from one computer to another, the file names may be changed but the hash values aren’t.
On Nov. 9, agents using investigative software designed for P2P networks determined a particular IP address later linked to one of Fanelli’s three home computers was sharing child pornography. They downloaded a file called “yo jovencita 14” from the computer that afternoon, encountering a wrinkle that stalled the download and allowed them to view only the initial screen image of a person’s neck and shoulder. But investigators determined the file’s hash value, matching it with files from prior investigations of child exploitation. It also was identified in a database kept by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the complaint said.
Two similar files were downloaded from the computer Jan. 3. Investigators also encountered a wrinkle in downloading one of the files, which started showing a girl beginning to remove her underwear, and then after the file stalled, showing what appeared to be her genitalia, the complaint said.
The complaint said Fanelli told agents he had viewed the images, claiming it began about a year ago as research for the sexual-abuse awareness classes he taught in a school and church but grew into a “personal interest,” and he admitted he would try to delete pornographic pictures and videos after viewing them and tried to delete any signs that he had used the P2P network.