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Bergen man’s 10-year sentence shows child porn cases can carry severe penalties

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

EDITORIAL : A reader recently insisted that convicted perverts often spend little time behind bars before going on to break the law again — to which I say: A judge today sentenced 26-year-old Eric Prawetz of North Arlington to more than 10 years in prison — all but maybe a few months of which he has to serve — for distributing kiddie porn. And this was off a plea bargain.

After that, he must undergo 15 years of supervised release or he’ll be locked up again, under the sentence imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez.

It was a year ago next week that investigators seized Prawetz’s laptop and found 1,386 photographs and 232 videos of child pornography — including “multiple depictions of prepubescent children engaging in sexually explicit conduct with other children and adults,” said U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.

What’s frightening is that the former Morris County landscaper admitted that he started collecting kiddie porn when he was 13. That means he had a trove of illegal images when he was busted for drug possession and sentenced, according to state records, to two years probation in Superior Court in Bergen County in 2006.

Prawetz said he he distributed the images through peer-to-peer software and multiple email accounts.

Jerry DeMarco Publisher/Editor


Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, who he said got “valuable assistance” from state investigators with New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Mendelsohn prosecuted the case.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the federal sentencing guidelines are intended as advisory, judges throughout the country still stick to the mandatory minimums when it comes to kiddie porn cases. Currently, first-time offenders ordinarily are sentenced to at least 8½ years behind bars.

Critics say it’s all based on emotion, and that those convicted have committed a victimless crime. However, the proponents have held sway in the federal courts: Punishing people like Prawetz curbs the illicit market — and keeps offenders from preying on children, they say.

Trouble is: No scientific studies have supported the theory of stopping molestation. On the contrary, they’ve shown the opposite: Viewers and abusers are two different types of perverts, say the social scientists, citing evidence that shows kiddie porn collectors tend not to go near real children.

Several judges themselves have said society would be better served if kiddie porn convicts were committed to treatment facilities instead of sentenced to prison. This raises several interesting possibilities, not the least of which is the fact that commitments can be continued indefinitely if a judge see enough reason to.

On the other hand, a convict can serve up to 10 years without adequate treatment, be released, and head straight back to perverted behavior again.

Less than two months ago, an appeals court upheld a New Jersey federal judge’s decision to deviate from the guidelines and give a defendant who pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography five years in prison, instead of the “advisory” term of 235 to 293 months. The judge called the range “draconian,” and the appellate panel agreed, citing widespread dissatisfaction among federal judges over what many consider unusually harsh guidelines.

Where it’s all headed, no one knows.

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