Largo puppeteer pleads guilty in child pornography case
TAMPA - A Pinellas County puppeteer pleaded guilty Monday to eight child pornography counts in a case that federal agents said had a disturbing undercurrent: The defendant had fantasized about kidnapping a boy at his church and then strangling, dismembering and eating him. Ron Brown’s plea was not the result of a plea agreement, but rather open to the court. U.S. Magistrate Mark Pizzo accepted the pleas, but said that U.S. District Court James Whittemore will be the judge who sentences Brown on the eight felony counts. A sentencing date was not set.Brown, 57, is charged with three counts of possession of child pornography and five counts of being in receipt of child pornography. The possession counts each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The receipt counts each have a five-year mandatory minimum prison term with a maximum of 20 years. Pizzo said the sentences also could result in Brown being on probation for life and that he would be required to register as a sex offender. Brown worked as a puppeteer entertaining children for years around the Tampa area. He was charged on a federal warrant with collecting pornographic images of children amid fantasies of strangulation, dismemberment and cannibalism of children, court documents say. The Largo man was arrested in July, charged as part of an international investigation conducted by Department of Homeland Security agents based in Boston. He had been listed in the Pinellas County schools speakers' directory as puppetry speaker for grades K-8 prior to his arrest. He was not a school employee. He staged performances at a Tampa Bay Rays game and at Florida Botanical Gardens. Neighborhood children came to his house for pizza and he drove a church van, agents said. He told investigators that he talked to someone online about killing, dismembering and eating a particular boy at his church, the complaint stated. He said he told the person, “If I was going to eat someone, I would probably eat” the boy. Investigators searched Brown’s home and found images of child pornography, children in bondage and children who appeared to be deceased. He told agents he talked with people online about strangling children and was part of a “strangle group” in Yahoo. He told investigators that these were fantasies and that he never would carry them out. None of that was mentioned in court during the hearing Monday afternoon. Pizzo read the counts which said Brown was in possession of a computer and two discs containing child pornography when federal agents searched his home in July. Brown admitted he had the discs and that he knew they contained child pornography. He also admitted downloading illegal images from the Internet between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. May 18. A presentence report will be completed and guideline sentence will be recommended. Brown said he had received no promises and has no idea what his sentence will be. “If the sentence is more severe than what you expect,” Pizzo told Brown, “you can’t withdraw your plea. Do you understand that?” “Yes sir,” Brown responded.