• Lynda Cohen

Former Vineland fifth-grade teacher allegedly recorded underage boys with hidden bathroom camera

Updated: May 7

A former Vineland elementary school teacher was indicted Friday on charges he manufactured child pornography by recording underage boys using a hidden camera in restrooms at a theater camp. Thomas Guzzi Jr., 38, of Pitman, was a fifth-grade teacher at Winslow Elementary School, where he also acted as adviser and stage manager for youth productions at the school and the Broadway Theatre of Pitman. Guzzi allegedly had separate computer folders where he stored images and videos of certain boys, and allegedly created photo montages of two underage boys that mixed photos of their faces with photos of them urinating with their genitals exposed, according to the Attorney General’s Office. He also allegedly created a music video of one of those two boys that had images and video footage of the boy urinating edited together with video recordings of him dancing in rehearsals for the summer musical production. Guzzi was arrested last year as part of “Operation Safeguard,” a child-pornography sweep conducted by the Attorney General’s Office, ICE Homeland Security Investigations and the New Jersey State Police. At that time, hundreds of videos and images of child pornography were found on computer equipment seized from his home.  The school district fired him and his teaching license was revoked. The Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau obtained a 10-count state grand jury indictment on Dec. 7, charging Guzzi with the following offenses six counts of manufacturing child pornography,  distribution of child pornography, storing and maintaining child pornography using a file-sharing program, possession of child pornography and invasion of privacy. That indictment was sealed pending further investigation until Friday, when he was re-arrested on a warrant based on the indictment. He is being held pending a detention hearing. “Guzzi allegedly stalked underage teenage boys for his sexual gratification, using a hidden camera to invade their privacy and capture images that he used to create child pornography,” Attorney General Christopher Porrino said. “Guzzi’s alleged heinous conduct highlights the alarming fact that child predators often seek positions in which they are entrusted with the supervision of children, only to betray that trust by sexually exploiting vulnerable young victims.” Porrino said the case further affirms what was seen in Operation Safety Net, when 79 sex offenders were recently arrested: “That those who share child pornography also frequently share a proclivity for hands-on sexual abuse or exploitation of children.”

During Operation Safeguard, special agents of ICE Homeland Security Investigations and detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice and New Jersey State Police Digital Technology Investigations Unit monitored online file-sharing networks that are popular with offenders who download and share child pornography. Using advanced technology, the investigators searched for digital “fingerprints” of known child pornography, as well as search terms used by such offenders. Through these and other methods, they identified New Jersey residents who were downloading child pornography and making child pornography available to others in “shared folders” on their computers. “It is chilling that Guzzi allegedly kept separate computer folders for each of his young victims, where he kept the child pornography he created,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Guzzi’s alleged targeting of specific teenage boys for sexual purposes raises concern that there may be other victims and conduct to be uncovered. Our investigation is ongoing, and we urge anyone who might have significant information about Guzzi to contact us confidentially.” Subsequent full forensic examinations of Guzzi’s computer devices revealed video recordings of multiple boys and adult men using restrooms. The investigation revealed that the videos allegedly were captured by Guzzi using a hidden camera placed in two restrooms, one backstage at the Broadway Theater in Pitman, and a second connected to a rehearsal space across the street from the main theater building. Neither restroom was open to the general public. It is alleged that investigators also discovered that Guzzi not only surreptitiously videotaped children and adults using those restrooms during the 2015 summer theater camp program, but he also created the pornographic music video and photo montages using video footage from the restrooms of two underage boys whose identities are now known through the investigation. The nude photos and video recordings used in the music video and montages allegedly were culled from about three hours of restroom footage recorded during the summer camp program. Investigators allegedly located more than 300 files of child pornography on Guzzi’s computer devices. “Those who think they can engage in these kinds of heinous activities and escape justice by hiding in cyberspace should be forewarned that HSI has the tools and experts at its disposal to protect our children from those who seek to sexually exploit them,” said Michael McCarthy, acting special agent in Charge of HSI Newark. “We owe it to the young victims in these cases, who will carry the emotional and physical scars of these crimes with them for the rest of their lives, to bring these individuals to justice.” Anyone who has information about Guzzi or any others distributing child pornography should call the New Jersey Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Tip Line at 888-648-6007. Under the child pornography law signed by Gov. Chris Christie in 2013, possession of 100 or more items of child pornography carries a presumptive sentence of three to five years in prison, whether or not the defendant has any prior felony conviction. Distribution of child pornography is a second-degree crime, and the new law imposes a mandatory minimum period of parole ineligibility of five years for distribution of 25 or more items. In cases of possession or distribution of child pornography, the prosecutor can ask the court to impose a sentence of parole supervision for life under Megan’s Law.

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