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Former Police Chief's Sentence Seen As Harsh To Some, Light To Others

Ex-Mount Pleasant Police Chief Brian Fanelli leaves U.S. District Court in White Plains with defense attorney Michael Burke on Wednesday. Fanelli was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison on a child pornography charge, commencing April 20.
Ex-Mount Pleasant Police Chief Brian Fanelli leaves U.S. District Court in White Plains with defense attorney Michael Burke on Wednesday. Fanelli was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison on a child pornography charge, commencing April 20. Photo Credit: Jon Craig

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Why does a West Point cadet get eight years in prison, a Westchester police chief get 18 months and a Little League coach and Boy Scout troop leader from Rockland County get placed on probation without prison time -- all for possessing child pornography?

The question is not easily answered.

U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth M. Karas touched on some of the disparities -- and why they occur -- during a two-hour sentencing hearing in White Plains on Wednesday for former Mount Pleasant Police Chief Brian Fanelli. The 56-year-old Valhalla High School graduate was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for possessing child pornography.

"This is probably one of the most tragic and sad cases that I've seen," Karas said before announcing the sentence.

Karas said he considered Fanelli's exemplary 32-year law enforcement career, service to his church and neighbors, devotion to his family and psychosexual therapy since his arrest.

Nonetheless, Karas said, "The viewing of child pornography is part of a chain of child exploitation and abuse."

Federal agents raided Fanelli's Mahopac home in January 2014.

Like drug and gun possession cases, federal prison sentencing guidelines are often lengthier and more rigid than state court minimums. Like it or not, Congress "enhanced" the federal guidelines to add extra prison time to some offenses.

"He admitted to downloading and viewing child pornography in multiple cases," federal prosecutor Anden Chow argued, while recommending that Fanelli serve prison time.

Chow said Fanelli appeared to use his law enforcement position to justify why downloaded child pornography in the first place -- yet seeks being spared prison time because his safety may be at risk as an ex-police officer. "The defendant seems to want to have it both ways,'' Chow said.

Before being sentenced, Fanelli sobbed frequently while reading a statement apologizing to his family, the community and former colleagues from the Mount Pleasant Police Department.

Fanelli told Karas he viewed the images as part of his research to help him teach children about the dangers of the Internet, saying he spoke to fifth graders for seven years.

However, Karas said Fanelli's admission that he was aroused by the images -- and returned to them over and over again -- "is a crime that many people feel just turns their stomach."

Fanelli also was a longtime religious education teacher at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Shrub Oak where he spoke to more than 1,200 children about sexual abuse awareness.

"I know that each time an image is being viewed, that the child is being abused again," Fanelli said. "Knowing that I caused harm to a child is immensely painful for me. . . . I have dedicated my entire life to protecting people, especially children, and yet I did the unthinkable."

As Fanelli spoke, his wife and two grown children choked back tears. "Why I did this is something I'm examining in therapy. . . . I have asked God for forgiveness and I believe that he will forgive me, but I am unable to forgive myself."

As part of Operation Caireen which spun off of the arrests of Fanelli and a rabbi from Brooklyn, 69 other suspects were charged with possessing child pornography including Jonathan Silber of Rockland County. The Boy Scout leader and Little League baseball coach was arrested at his home in Suffern. Silber was sentenced in state court to 10 years probation, but no jail time. "The majority of them received sentences of probation or a few months of jail time," Burke told the judge.

Kenneth Gardner of Queens, a registered nurse at Westchester Medical Center, also was charged. Two Putnam County men, John Asmodeo, 30, of Carmel and Christian Cote, 26, of Kent, also were among the accused.

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