Media & News

Dragnet Is Out For Porn Photos In Child Sex Case

Newsday, February 8, 1989

By Alvin E. Bessent

Police are searching for pornographic photos and videotapes that could be key evidence in their continuing investigation of a Great Neck child sex‑abuse case.

Many victims told police they were photographed performing sexual acts in the home of computer teacher Arnold Friedman, who has pleaded guilty to sex abuse. And many parents, who fear the material is circulating in child pornography circles, say they were angered because plea bargain negotiations by authorities with Friedman's son Jesse, 18, did not lead police to the material.

A teenage neighbor of the Friedman's has been indicted in the investigation, but two other men that the victims and he said were also involved haven't been charged. The missing pornographic materials could provide needed evidence against the two suspects, officials said.

"Virtually every child who gave a statement said they were extensively photographed and videotaped during these sexual acts," said Det. Sgt. Frances Galasso, chief of the Nassau police sex crimes unit. "Just about every class was videotaped. It had to be dozens [of tapes]," she said.

Jesse Friedman's defense attorney, Peter Panaro, said a video camera and a 35mm still camera were regularly positioned on tripods in the ground floor classroom where Arnold Friedman conducted computer classes. But Panaro maintained that his client doesn't know what became of the photos and tapes, or whether they still exist. "Jesse says he's never seen a picture ever," Panaro said. "Arnold had 100 percent control over pictures." Arnold Friedman's attorney, Jerry Bernstein, declined to comment.

None of the pictures or tapes were found during two searches in late 1987 of the Friedman house at 17 Picadilly Road. Nassau police have traveled around the region to view child pornography seized in other jurisdictions, Galasso said. And federal postal inspectors said they, too, are on the lookout for homemade pornography tied to those involved in the case. Authorities said they have no firm leads to the whereabouts of the materials.

Parents of many of the victims say they fear that the materials featuring their children will be distributed in the child pornography netherworld. That was one of the threats Arnold Friedman used to keep the children quiet about what was going on during his classes, parents and police have said.

Because of those concerns, and the parents' desire that the two additional suspects described by victims be charged in the case, questions about the missing photos and tapes almost derailed the negotiations that resulted in Jesse Friedman's Dec. 20 guilty plea to 25 counts of sexual abuse in the case.

According to parents of the victims, Jesse Friedman often had a camera around his neck when he greeted their children outside his home before computer classes. When he entered his guilty plea, he admitted taking photos, of at least one boy in a sexual scene. In an interview, one victim said he was afraid the pictures and tapes could ruin lives, but took solace in the hope that the pornography will not surface for years. "People change so much as they grow older . . . If these things surface 20 years later, they won't be recognizable," he said.

The mother of a victim said, "The kids are afraid Jesse has those pictures and when he comes out of jail he's going to be real angry and use those pictures to hurt them. It's a very powerful hold to have on someone, to have those pictures."

The Friedmans were arrested Nov. 26 1987, and charged with counts of child sexual abuse. Charges were later filed against a third defendant, Ross Goldstein, bringing the total number of counts to 465.

Questions about the tapes and photos were not raised during negotiations with Arnold Friedman that resulted in his guilty plea to 42 felony child sexual abuse charges in exchange for a 10 to 30 year prison sentence. The children had not told police about being photographed or the presence of additional adults during the classes before March 25 when Arnold Friedman's plea was accepted, officials said. Arnold Friedman is serving his state sentence concurrently with 10 to 30 years imposed on the federal charge of distributing pornography through the mail.

Goldstein, who was indicted last November on 118 counts of sexual abuse, confirmed in grand jury testimony that, in addition to the Friedmans, two additional men participated in the abuse of the victims. But that account from a co‑defendant such as Goldstein must be independently corroborated to be of use during a trial, said Assistant District Attorney Joseph Onorato. Goldstein has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is free on $25,000 bail. Goldstein's attorney Michael Cornacchia declined comment

Based on [Ross'] testimony, police said, two suspects were brought in for lineups. But only one of the twelve victims who have been cooperating with the investigation made a positive identification. Two others said they thought they recognized one of the men, but weren't sure, Onorato said.

That left police with the missing photos and tapes as their best remaining hope for making cases against the two suspects, Galasso said.

Outraged relatives of seven of the victims wanted a 10‑to‑30 year sentence for Jesse Friedman unless he led police to the pornography. They said Onorato badgered them during Dec. 16 and Dec. 20 meetings in his Mineola office when he advised them to accept a deal for 6‑to‑18 years.

Onorato denied pressuring the parents. Before accepting the plea, Onorato said, he pushed Jesse Friedman for leads to the photos and tapes. But the defendant maintained he knew nothing about the pornography.

Panaro confirmed that Onorato pressured Jesse Friedman on the subject of the photos and tapes before agreeing to the deal. "They wanted those pictures," Panaro said. "I thought the whole deal was dead."

Police asked anyone with information about the case to call the sex‑crimes unit at 535‑7816. All calls will be kept confidential, they said.