Priest sentenced to prison on child porn charges

By Matthew Glowicki
March 29, 2016

Father Stephen Pohl was arrested by the Pinellas County (Fla.) Sheriff's Department.

The Rev. Stephen A. Pohl

[with video]

A Louisville priest who pleaded guilty to viewing child pornography was sentenced Tuesday to 33 months in federal prison.

U.S. District Court Judge David Hale accepted the terms of the plea agreement for Stephen Pohl, the former pastor of St. Margaret Mary Parish, at a hearing Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Louisville.

In a statement he read aloud to the court, Pohl apologized to the people of St. Margaret Mary Parish, the Archbishop of Louisville, his family and friends.

He said he regretted the sadness and anger he caused to the community.

"I pray for all who have been hurt by my actions that they might have God's healing and peace," he said in court.

In January 2016, the Roman Catholic priest admitted to accessing more than 100 pornographic images of nude underage boys on computers at the church rectory and office between January and August 2015.

Pohl will be credited for the nearly three months he's spent in custody since his guilty plea. With good behavior, Pohl is expected to serve 85 percent of his 33-month sentence, or about 25 more months.

Hale accepted the terms of the plea agreement offered by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jo E. Lawless. That agreement included the 33-month federal prison term, registry as a sex offender and lifetime supervision by the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services. Pohl will also be required to pay a $7,500 fine.

A pre-sentence investigation report conducted by the court – which took into consideration the priest's lack of criminal record among other factors recommended a 37- to 46-month sentence.

Explaining to Hale her offer of 33 months, Lawless said she erred in calculating a sentencing minimum when crafting the plea agreement. Still, she maintained, the 33-month sentence was an appropriate number.

"Thirty-three months is certainly not insignificant," Lawless said in court Tuesday, asking Hale to approve the sentence.

Pohl faced up to 10 years in prison on the single federal felony charge.

A first-time offender, Pohl poses a low risk for repeating his crime and is undergoing sex offender treatment, said his attorneys Ted Shouse, Annie O'Connell and John H. Harralson in a court filing last week.

After court Tuesday, Shouse said Pohl plans to continue treatment in prison and that his in-court apology was sincere and honest. He also noted the court received more than 20 letters from clergy, former parishioners and friends who spoke highly of Pohl and asked the court for mercy.

"I think that says a lot about Fr. Pohl's character," Shouse said.

Family members declined to comment Tuesday as they left court.

Pohl originally entered a not guilty plea after he was arrested in August 2015 following a law enforcement search of the church office and rectory, 7813 Shelbyville Road.

Analysis of computer hard drives seized in the search revealed that pornographic images had never been downloaded to the computer, according to charging documents but were viewed online by Pohl.

The Archdiocese of Louisville placed Pohl on administrative leave following the searches. Pohl then resigned as pastor and was arrested soon after.

Prosecutors have noted that the charge stems from images accessed online that do not feature any children from St. Margaret Mary.

Police were tipped off after a 10-year-old St. Margaret Mary student told his mother that "Father Steve" singled him out at an after-school club to take a series of "weird" photos on his cell phone.

The youth said Pohl had him pose with his hands on his knees and legs spread apart, according to court records.

When the child's parents confronted Pohl about the pictures, the affidavit details, they saw similar pictures of another child on the priest's phone and reported it to police.

According to prosecutors, hundreds of photos of clothed students, some of which constituted child erotica, were taken by Pohl and found on his personal computers. No criminal charges have arisen from that allegation.

The FBI is working with St. Margaret Mary to identify students in those pictures, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Affected families will be mailed within the next few weeks and given the opportunity to view the seized photos.



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