Ex-child welfare official faces porn charges

February 12, 2008 4:32:57 AM PST
The former spokesman for Florida's child welfare agency paid two 16-year-old boys for sexually explicit photos of themselves and then brokered the images to overseas pornographers, according to a complaint filed Monday by federal prosecutors. One of the boys that Al Zimmerman paid for photos was in state foster care at the time and later ran away from a foster home, according to the affidavit written by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Alexander Hagedorn.

Zimmerman, 41, a former TV news reporter who was spokesman for the Florida Department of Children & Families, was arrested Feb. 1 and charged by state prosecutors with eight counts of using a child in a sexual performance. Monday's complaint will be taken to a grand jury later for a federal indictment, U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Steve Cole said.

Federal prosecutors said they would argue at a Tuesday hearing to keep Zimmerman behind bars pending trial. His attorney, Brian Albritton, declined to comment after a brief court appearance Monday.

When he was interviewed Feb. 1, Zimmerman admitted that he was "involved in a pornography business," the affidavit said. He admitted paying the boys for the photos but said the first boy had produced a driver's license that said he was 18. The affidavit also suggests other boys were involved who have not yet been interviewed.

The affidavit said Zimmerman paid the first boy for sending photos of himself and shot his own photos of the boy posing nude and masturbating. The boy told investigators he met Zimmerman because he and his friends began gathering at Zimmerman's house, where they were given alcoholic drinks, the affidavit said.

The second boy told investigators he photographed himself nude with his cell phone camera on five or six occasions and sent the photos to Zimmerman, who then sent him money. He also said Zimmerman had once offered him $200 for sex, but he declined, the document said.

The document also details explicit e-mails that authorities say Zimmerman sent to one of the boys describing poses and activities he wanted in photographs to get top dollar from pornographers overseas.

Zimmerman, after becoming aware that he was being investigated, asked a child welfare agency computer technician to throw his home computer in an outdoor trash container so authorities couldn't get access to it, the affidavit said.

If convicted of the federal charge, Zimmerman faces a minimum of 15 years in prison.

His arrest prompted agency review of hiring policies and of 13,500 personnel files to make sure every employee has had a criminal background check.