Former ski school employee charged with child porn pleads not guilty | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Former ski school employee charged with child porn pleads not guilty

After an iPod containing images of child pornography was discovered at Heavenly Mountain Resort in 2015, various law enforcement agencies spent the two years locating the owner and building their case.

That work culminated Wednesday when a grand jury handed down an indictment for one count of sexual exploitation of a child, two counts of attempted sexual exploitation of a child, and one count of possession of child pornography. The man indicted, Stephan L. DeGraffenreid, a 26-year-old resident of Gardnerville and former employee at the children's ski school at Heavenly, pleaded not guilty to all four charges Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Reno.

His lawyer, David Houston, withdrew a motion he filed earlier in the day requesting permission to submit a psychological examination of DeGraffenreid under seal.

Houston said after the hearing he had no immediate comment but intends to file additional documents before the bail hearing.

According to law enforcement, none of the alleged crimes took place at Heavenly, which itself denounced the actions in a statement Wednesday.

"We terminated Mr. DeGraffenreid from the Heavenly Ski Resort immediately upon learning of the investigation by the authorities," Kevin "Coop" Cooper, senior communications manager for Heavenly, said in an email. "We have no reason to believe that the alleged activity has any connection to Heavenly Ski Resort or its guests. The alleged activity is abhorrent to everything that our resort stands for and we remain available to cooperate with the authorities in their investigation, if requested."

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Earlier case stalls

The criminal complaint filed March 30 details the investigation that led to DeGraffenreid, who was first sought in 2011 when Microsoft alerted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that 106 images of child pornography had been uploaded to an account traced back to DeGraffenreid, according to the affidavit contained in the complaint.

Attempts to locate DeGraffenreid in 2011 were unsuccessful — effectively closing the case pending further information.

About three and a half years later, the El Dorado Sheriff's Office was alerted about an iPod found at Heavenly. The employee who found the device handed it over to a security officer, who attempted to find the owner's information. Instead they found "many images of prepubescent nude females in sexually explicit poses."

Security eventually found the owner's name, which was different than DeGraffenreid. Despite having a different name for the owner, DeGraffenreid's name and phone number were listed in the contact information.

The sheriff's office obtained a search warrant for the iPod and found three contacts, one of whom was DeGraffenreid. His email address matched the same one provided by Microsoft in 2011.

A little more than one year after the iPod had been found, a detective with the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office called DeGraffenreid at a phone number provided by Heavenly. After he described the iPod, DeGraffenreid was informed pornography had been found, which caused him to sound nervous, according to the affidavit.

The El Dorado Sheriff's Office, citing a policy that defers to the prosecuting agency in terms of what information gets released, would not comment on why it took a year to contact DeGraffenreid.

The FBI was alerted at that point in the investigation and the sheriff's office asked the Washoe County Sheriff's Office to conduct an additional forensic exam.

More files found

Law enforcement eventually found an address for DeGraffenreid and a search warrant was executed on Jan. 26. Upon executing the search, DeGraffenreid informed law enforcement of a thumb drive hidden in his bedroom. It contained multiple pornographic images of children under the age of 5. Investigators discovered the images had been secretly taken in a bathroom at a Gardnerville day care center.

During a subsequent interview, DeGraffenreid, according to the affidavit, admitted to downloading and possessing child pornography.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Shannon M. Bryant, who is prosecuting the case, declined comment Thursday when called by the Tribune. Citing Justice Department policies, he directed questions to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney District of Nevada Office, who said the attorney's office does not comment beyond what is released in public documents and proceedings.

On Thursday a federal magistrate set a hearing for April 18 to determine whether DeGraffenreid should continue to be held without bail until a trial set for June 13.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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