Wednesday June 12, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A former Vermont Academy teacher accused of producing child pornography has signed a plea agreement and is expected in court on June 17 to plead guilty.

Brant Nelson, 48, formerly of Saxtons River, has agreed to plead guilty to six counts of producing child pornography and one count of possessing child pornography. According to documents filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, he will spend a minimum of 15 years in prison if the court accepts the plea deal.

"The total maximum sentence the sentencing court can impose for these guilty pleas is up to 190 years imprisonment with a mandatory minimum of 15 years," according to the plea agreement.

If he is ever released from prison, Nelson would be placed on parole for at least five years, up to the rest of his life. He also could be fined up to $1.75 million.

Nelson was arrested on Jan. 20, 2012, after the Vermont State Police received information on Jan. 6 from Vermont Academy administrators that he was in possession of child pornography.

Investigators were told by a former VA employee and friend of Nelson’s that Nelson had admitted that he had an interest in young girls and that he used encryption techniques to hide files on his computer. Nelson was interviewed later that same day in the headmaster’s office at VA, and, according to court documents, he told the police detectives that he did in fact have child pornography on his computers.

While he was being interviewed, Nelson admitted to struggling with his addiction to child pornography. He said he was only interested in girls between the ages of 5 and 13, before they reached puberty.

Early on the morning of Jan. 20, members of the Vermont State Police arrested Nelson at the Motel 6 in Brattleboro. He has been incarcerated since his arrest, shortly after which he was fired from his position at Vermont Academy, a private school in Saxtons River. According to investigators, there is no indication that Nelson had any inappropriate relationships with VA students.

According to court documents, Nelson also admitted to having a relationship with a minor for more than three years and posting photographs of her on a Russian child pornography website. Nelson allegedly took the photos in motel rooms in Norway, Maine, and Newport, R.I., according to court documents.

Pornographic videos of Nelson and a second young girl were discovered on the computer of Kurt Harahus, of Bath, N.Y., who is under investigation for possessing child pornography. He is scheduled to have a hearing in federal court in New York State on June 25.

Jamie West, a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security, wrote in an affidavit that agents searched an apartment and shed in Saxtons River used by Nelson. The police confiscated Nelson’s laptop and a forensic examiner was able to retrieve numerous images that had been hidden on the computer with encryption.

Nelson was initially charged with one count of production but following the forensic investigation of his computers, the additional charges were added.

While the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont has suggested a 15 to 190 year sentence, it’s up to the federal district court judge to accept the plea agreement and impose a sentence.

If he is ever released from prison, he has agreed to a number of conditions that he must adhere to, including, but not limited to, keeping a monthly log of computer activity, the installation of monitoring hardware and software on his computers, that he shall not associate with or have contact with anyone under the age of 18 and that he be prohibited from being in any areas that children are likely to congregate.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.