Former Maryland Licensed Counselor Sentenced to 35 Years in Prison for Conspiring to Sexually Exploit an Infant
WASHINGTON—U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz of the District of Maryland sentenced Stephen H. Schaffner, 35, of Greensboro, Maryland, today to 35 years in prison, followed by supervised release for life, for a conspiracy to sexually exploit a child and for sexual exploitation of a six week old baby who was born prematurely, in order to produce images documenting the abuse. Judge Motz also ordered that upon his release from prison 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).
The sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein of the District of Maryland, U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy of the Southern District of California, Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Vogt of the Baltimore Division of the FBI, Special Agent in Charge Eric Birnbaum of the FBI’s San Diego Division, Superintendent Colonel William M. Pallozzi of the Maryland State Police, Chief Jeff A. Jackson of the Greensboro Police Department and Chief David A. Spencer of the Easton, Maryland, Police Department.
“The defendant was caught because in 2014, police were still able to obtain a warrant and find images on a cell phone,” said U.S. Attorney Rosenstein. “Companies now market encrypted devices that are immune from search warrants and allow pedophiles to molest children and trade photographs with little risk of detection, even when a federal judge finds that there is probable cause and issues a court order. Law enforcement officials have a responsibility to alert law-abiding citizens about the consequences of ‘Going Dark,’ so they will not be surprised when police cannot obtain evidence of serious crimes.”
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 also worked as a clinician in Easton, 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 Oct. 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.
Schaffner admitted that beginning in 2004, he 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.
According to his plea agreement, in late June 2014, Schaffner met Michael Lutts online. Lutts lived in California and worked as a pediatric nurse at a hospital in San Diego County. Schaffner and Lutts communicated electronically using their cellular phones. On Aug. 4, 2014, Lutts brought home a six–week-old baby boy, born prematurely, who was placed in his care as a foster child. Lutts texted images of the infant to Schaffner.
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 in specific ways, to produce photos and video that Lutts was to send to Schaffner. Lutts sent Schaffner images and videos with the infant, including images documenting the sexual abuse of the infant. Schaffner and Lutts also discussed Schaffner travelling to San Diego to rape the infant.
According to court documents, the abuse of the infant was discovered when a federal investigation of individuals transmitting child pornography led authorities to obtain a search warrant for Lutts’s residence in San Diego on Aug. 26, 2014. During that search, law enforcement seized a cell phone that contained images and videos of Lutts sexually molesting the infant. Lutts 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 Oct. 13, 2015.
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 U.S. 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.
U.S. Attorney Rosenstein commended the FBI’s Baltimore and San Diego offices, the Maryland State Police Interstate Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC), the San Diego ICAC, Greensboro Police Department and Easton Police Department for their work in the investigation and prosecution. U.S. Attorney Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Alessandra P. Serano of the Southern District of California who is prosecuting the case against Lutts, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Myers of the District of Maryland, who is prosecuting the case against Schaffner.