Petersburg school maintenance man admits guilt in child porn case

Jerzy Shedlock

A former maintenance man for the Petersburg City School District has pleaded guilty to possession and distribution of child pornography, the Alaska U.S. attorney said this week.

Petersburg resident Tye Leif Petersen, 46, agreed to plead guilty to three counts: distribution, receipt and possession of child pornography, according to a plea deal filed in federal court.

By accepting the plea, Petersen is giving up the right to appeal his conviction or the sentence imposed under the agreement. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both.

Petersen started working as maintenance director for the Southeast school district in 2002. He resigned Oct. 29, 2013, and headed for Juneau, where he was arrested.

Charges say that in late July, an FBI agent got a search warrant for a Yahoo email account. A review of the email account's correspondence showed "prolific" trading of child porn between it and 50 other addresses. Fifty-eight of those trades were sent between the Yahoo account and Petersen.

Most of the emails contained images or videos of "very young children" being sexually abused, the charges say.

Three months after the digital search, federal agents and local police searched Petersen's home. They found 10 CDs loaded with child porn. Authorities interviewed the former maintenance director that day, and police said he told them he'd received the illegal materials on various email accounts. He then gave up the user names and passwords of three accounts.

Petersburg City School District Superintendent Robert Thomason sent letters about the arrest to the parents of students in the district rather than hold a large assembly or visit individual classrooms, he said in an interview following Petersen's arrest. The district also bought a radio spot to inform the community of Petersen and the charges against him.

Petersburg is a town of about 3,000 midway between Juneau and Ketchikan, about 120 miles from either community.

Thomason said in an email Friday that his district continues to use the Alaska State Troopers' background check service. "The cost is very reasonable, $20 per background check, and the results are very timely," he said, adding that nothing would have turned up on Petersen as he had no criminal record when hired.

Authorities reported that none of the illegal images showed local children. Thomason said when Petersen was arrested, the school district's staff and others in Petersburg were shocked but understood it was an isolated incident "involving a person with a very unbalanced and abhorrent condition."

"The school district and the community, while being more alert and sensitive to the child pornography issue nationwide and worldwide, have moved on," he said. "The district continues to be an outstanding place to learn and the community continues to be an outstanding place to live."

Thomason did not immediately return a call for comment Friday.

Authorities reported that none of the illegal images showed local children.

Petersen's sentencing is set for Nov. 11 in Juneau before U.S. District Court Judge Timothy M. Burgess.