A respected Jewish cleric who participated in an alleged international child pornography ring left Nova Scotia hours after pleading guilty yesterday under a deal with local police and prosecutors.
Cantor Stuart Friedman, 42, appeared in Halifax provincial court yesterday afternoon on charges of possessing child pornography in his 1333 South Park St. home.
Friedman, an American citizen who has lived in Halifax for about two years, was arrested Monday.
Police said they found photographs, videos, computer graphic files on disks, hard drives, and printed on paper, and magazines depicting children in sex acts.
Police also seized a book in Friedman's apartment detailing how parents can street-proof their children.
Friedman - who led prayers and song at Beth Israel Synagogue and gave Hebrew lessons to children - looked around the courtroom anxiously yesterday. Friedman, who wore a yarmulke and a trench coat, refused to speak to reporters.
He was to board a 4:45 p.m. flight to Boston yesterday. He left court though a side door and jumped into a waiting car.
Friedman came to Halifax from Cleveland, Ohio, 16 months ago with "a spotless reputation", synagogue president Robert Wolman said yesterday. The child-porn charges surprised members of the Oxford Street synagogue, he said.
"It was very much of a shock. I mean, you could have knocked me over with a feather. It would have been the last thing in the world that I would have thought", he said.
Wolman said the synagogue will investigate the matter.
Friedman was fined $2,000 for possessing child porn - the first such case in Nova Scotia.
Defence lawyer Joel Pink told The Daily News his client pleaded guilty "in lieu" of the police pursuing distribution charges.
That does not mean he would have been charged with distribution - which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years - if he hadn't agreed to the deal, he said.
"No decision had been made ... about what charges were to be laid", he said. "The agreement came as a result of discussing certain things with the Crown and the level of co-operation of my client."
Pink said he and Friedman "spent the whole night co-operating with police" after his arrest.
"He has given them all the information he knows about this alleged ring", he said. "Based on the information he gave them, agencies in the United States will be contacted by local police."
Friedman also agreed to leave Canada immediately, he said.
"Part of the agreement was a request he leave Canada", Pink said. "He agreed. There is no reason for him to stay."
Crown attorney Frank Hoskins told court Halifax regional police arrested Friedman after gaining information about an alleged porn ring operating in Canada and the United States.
Pink told court Friedman, who has no previous criminal record, admitted he "fantasized" about the photos. Pink said there was no evidence the porn was intended for anything but his client's own use.
"At no time did he download videos in front of children or anyone else", said Pink.
A charge of possessing kiddie porn carries a maximum five-year sentence; lawyers jointly asked for a $2,000 fine.
"I don't think he got off easy at all", said Hoskins. "I think it was a fair, fit, and proper punishment. It's the first case like this and it sends a message out to the court that those involved in child pornography will be suitably fined and punished."
Halifax regional police Sgt. Bill Cowper, an Internet crime expert, said there were no precedents for the court to follow.
"It's a new problem", he said. "But this is certainly an awakening to what is out there. I think parents should use this as a wake-up call to what their children and pre-adolescents could be talking to or seeing on the Internet. It's like putting them in a community of strangers."