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Former Newton teacher may plead guilty to federal porn charges

Posted by Your Town  June 27, 2012 06:08 PM

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Former Newton elementary school teacher David Ettlinger “will enter a guilty plea” to charges stemming from his alleged role in a global child pornography network, according to court papers, as his attorney continues to negotiate with federal prosecutors.

Ettlinger, whose arrest in January unsettled parents in the affluent Boston suburb, is scheduled to appear in a Louisiana court on Aug. 15. A conclusion of the federal case would clear the way for him to return to Massachusetts to face state charges of indecently assaulting three girls in the Boston area.

According to federal guidelines, Ettlinger faces 20 years to life in prison for the most serious charge of engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, said Jennifer Culotta, Ettlinger’s attorney.

But Culotta, in a telephone interview Wednesday, cautioned that her client hasn’t decided yet on the admission of guilt and she is still in negotiations with prosecutors.

“We’re exploring possible settlements as opposed to trial,” Culotta said. “We have not filed a plea agreement.”

Ettlinger is also charged federally with conspiracy to advertise the distribution of child pornography and conspiracy to distribute child porn.

Ettlinger was among dozens of people caught up in an international investigation of Dreamboard, a child pornography online bulletin board, where participants had to post images to remain members.

Prosecutors accuse Ettlinger of visiting Dreamboard more than 100 times between June 2009 and August 2010, and on several occassions posting child pornography.

After his arrest in January, investigators discovered graphic photos and files on Ettlinger’s computer.

State prosecutors eventually charged Ettlinger with indecently assaulting three girls and taping the incidents. None of the alleged victims were his students.

However, investigators did find inappropriate, though not illegal, photos that Ettlinger took of students at Underwood Elementary School, where he taught.

Ettlinger will have to return to Massachusetts to face the indecent assault charges against the three girls, after the federal proceedings are settled, said Jake Wark, spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

Ettlinger has pleaded not guilty to the state charges.

“We do expect to see him in Massachusetts,” Wark said.

Ettlinger was a popular second-grade teacher at the time of his arrest. He had taught in Newton schools for 12 years, had created a video for parents on how to read to their children and advertised his babysitting services on a national website.

However, there had been complaints about Ettlinger in recent years. A parent had flagged his closeness to a female student during a field trip. A child accused Ettlinger of kicking him. A teacher questioned his odd punishment of forcing a student eat a banana out of the trash can. Most of the complaints were never included in Ettlinger’s teaching file.

Parents have questioned the district’s handling of complaints about teachers and urged more oversight.

Newton Superintendent David Fleishman has said the district will start checking employees against the Sexual Offender Registry Information system and will offer principals additional training on how to conduct teacher investigations.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe

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