Former Md. Counselor Pleads Guilty in Infant Sex Case - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Former Md. Counselor Pleads Guilty in Infant Sex Case

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Stephen H. Schaffner Stephen H. Schaffner

BALTIMORE- A Caroline County, Md. man could face up to 35 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to sexually exploit a child in a case involving a Calfiornia pediatric nurse accused of sexually abusing a 6-week-old premature baby under his care. 

Federal prosecutors said 34-year-old Stephen H. Schaffner, of Greensboro, entered his guilty plea Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. 

Authorities said that for more than 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, Md., for 18 months, where prosecutors said he provided individual and family mental health counseling, including treatment for children and for sex offenders. 

Prosecutors said that on 2011 and 2012, Schaffner attended training and conferences focused on the assessment, management and treatment of sex offenders. Schaffner's plea agreement alleges that on Oct. 30, 2012, he 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, authorities said. 

According to his plea agreement, as far back as 2004, Schaffner collected child pornography he obtained from the Internet. The plea agreement alleges that 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. Prosecutors said that 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. Prosecutors also noted that Schaffner discussed ways to ensure that the children did not report the abuse, including drugging or killing the children.

The plea agreement alleges that 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. Authorities said that on Aug. 4, 2014, Lutts brought to his home a 6-week-old boy, born prematurely, who was placed in his care as a foster child, and texted Schaffner images of the infant.

Court records show that 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, prosecutors said. They also said 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, prosecutors further allege.

Court documents show authorities 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 Aug. 26, 2014, authorities obtained a search warrant for Lutts's home in San Diego, where they said they seized a cellphone that contained images and videos of Lutts sexually molesting the infant. 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.

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.

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 at 10 a.m.

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