State court lifts restrictions on ex-Deer Isle-Stonington school employee accused of child porn

Posted Nov. 18, 2011, at 5:05 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 18, 2011, at 6:31 p.m.
Joseph Audette
Hancock County Jail
Joseph Audette

ELLSWORTH, Maine — All bond restrictions have been lifted on a former employee in the Deer Isle-Stonington public schools accused by police of possessing child pornography.

But a prosecutor in the Hancock County District Attorney’s Office said the investigation into Joseph Audette is continuing, and an investigator with the Maine State Police’s computer crimes unit suggested earlier this week that federal authorities may pick up the case.

On Thursday, a Superior Court justice in Ellsworth dismissed all restrictions on Audette, 30, because the state had not filed a formal complaint against the Surry resident. Audette has been free on bail since early October after being arrested for possession of sexually explicit materials featuring children under the age of 12, a Class C felony.

Audette had been prohibited from having any contact with children under age 18 and initially was banned from accessing the Internet, although that bond restriction later was amended to prohibit him only from accessing sexually explicit materials online. Those restrictions have been dismissed, however.

Mary Kellett, an assistant district attorney in Hancock County, declined to discuss the potential case against Audette other than to say that the investigation is continuing.

“Sometimes it takes a while to investigate a case,” Kellett said.

Police have said they do not believe local children are depicted in the pornographic pictures allegedly found on Audette’s hard drive. They also took possession of Audette’s computer from the Deer Isle-Stonington schools, where he worked as network administrator before resigning after his arrest.

Police have said Audette has been cooperative in the investigation.

On Monday, Special Agent Mike McFadden with the Maine State Police’s computer crimes unit told parents and teachers from the Deer Isle-Stonington area that he and technicians had only gone through a fraction of the images on Audette’s home computer.

McFadden warned parents not to be overly alarmed if the state’s charges against Audette were dismissed because federal authorities may pursue the case. That is because Audette’s computer allegedly had animation — commonly known as “anime” — depicting children in sexual situations, which he said is illegal under federal law but not under Maine law.

“I can’t sit here and guarantee you that this is a slam dunk,” McFadden said. But he said the group would be disturbed by the materials they had found so far, adding “none of us would be here if we were talking about a couple of images.”

“So we are sitting in a good position,” McFadden said.

It is fairly common for federal authorities to get involved in child pornography cases.

A Jackman kindergarten teacher was sentenced earlier this month to 16 years in federal prison after pleading guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of production of child pornography.

Last month, a New Hampshire school bus driver was indicted on one count of possession of child pornography and five counts of sexual exploitation of children. And a Millinocket man has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of possessing child pornography.

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