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Deceased GFAFB airman headed for trial in possession child pornography

11-21-2007 North Dakota:

The Air Force airman found dead in his Grand Forks apartment Monday was facing a federal trial next month on child pornography charges.

A Grand Forks police report identifies the man who was found unresponsive, at 6:20 p.m. Monday at 506 N. Fourth St. as 38-year-old Mark Massucco. Federal investigators said his death apparently was self-inflicted, a federal prosecutor told the Herald.

After police responded to a medical assist call and determined Massucco was dead, the Air Force quickly took over the investigation, police said. Air Force officials have not identified Massucco, citing notification of relatives.

But according to court documents, Massucco was indicted June 6 in federal court on two counts of receiving of materials involving the sexual exploitation of minors and one count of possessing materials involving the sexual exploitation of minors.

Wednesday, federal officials filed a motion to dismiss all charges. Massucco was scheduled to go to trial on the charges in Fargo on Dec. 11.

Earlier this year, a Minneapolis police officer working in the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, used a publicly available software to search the internet for child pornography that was being offered for distribution by host computers/users, according to court records.

That search led the police officer to an apartment at 506 N. Fourth St. and to Massucco, according to court records.

Federal prosecutors allege that Massucco did knowingly possess numerous computer files containing visual depictions that had been mailed, shipped and transported in interstate commerce involving the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct, according to court records. They allege Massucco also knowingly received and distributed those visual depictions on three different dates: March 13, 2004, Jan. 15 and March 8 of this year.

Massucco had hired two Ohio attorneys to defend him, and they were using David Dusek, an East Grand Forks attorney, as local counsel. Dusek said Tuesday he could not comment on the case.

Police said an autopsy was planned.

Air Force officials took over the investigation into the death of the airman Tuesday.

Officials at Grand Forks Air Force Base have not named the dead airman, except to say he was a non-commissioned officer a sergeant with the bases 319th Air Refueling Wing.

We are deeply saddened by this loss, Col. Diane Hull, commander of the 319th, said in a news release today. Any loss of an airman is tragic, and it is important to us to find the root cause.

Officials said his name would be released pending notification of kin, according to Tech. Sgt. Joseph Kapinos, base public affairs officer. The airmans kin is international, Kapinos said, making notification a little more complicated.

The mans death remains under investigation, Kapinos said. When asked if foul play was suspected or whether an autopsy had been completed, Kapinos said he couldnt go into anymore details.

Massuccos case took several turns over the past several months. Indicted over the summer, Massucco was living under conditions of home confinement, including wearing an electronic monitoring device, while awaiting trial, according to court documents.

During his initial questioning last spring by investigators a federal agent with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and a Grand Forks police officer at the base, Massucco confessed to possessing child porn, according to court documents.

But he later challenged that confession, saying it was coerced because he was obeying a superior officers order to cooperate with the investigators, which thus violated his constitutional rights to not incriminate himself.

His attorneys, including Dusek, said that situation made Massuccos confession involuntary.

Prosecutors countered that no Air Force officials were in the room when Massucco made his confession to two investigators, and that he understood his Miranda rights. U.S. Judge Ralph Erickson had not yet ruled on Massuccos motion to have his initial statements to investigators suppressed.

In September, Massucco filed a motion to change his plea to guilty and forego a trial. Only days later, however, he changed his mind and filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea and face a trial on the charges. The trial recently had been rescheduled for Dec. 11.

The mandatory minimum penalty on child pornography charges is 5 years in prison with a maximum of life prison and a $250,000 fine.

The assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case said he was saddened by the news of Massuccos death, which he said appeared to be self-inflicted, according to federal investigators.

We had been negotiating with him, trying to reach a plea agreement and I thought we were making progress, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Hochhalter of Bismarck, on Wednesday. He specializes in child pornography cases and assisted the Fargo office when a prosecutor there recently had a child.

I feel really bad for his family and whatever friends he had in the Grand Forks area, Hochhalter said. We were shocked to get the news."

Massucco had only been stationed at Grand Forks about a year, Hochhalter said.

The charges Massucco faced included a mandatory minimum sentence of five years, if he had been convicted or pleaded guilty, Hochhalter said.

Because Massucco was nearing 20 years of service in the Air Force which means retirement and other benefits the prospect of pleading guilty was a weighty one with lots of import on whether he would be dishonorably discharged and lose a lot, Hochhalter said.

The charges against Massucco indicate he was using peer-to-peer file-sharing software that made it possible for him to receive and pass on images of very young children engaged in explicit sexual activity, Hochhalter said.

Massucco had told investigators he was not targeting children himself, but merely curious about seeing such images, Hochhalter said.

This is not the worst case I have seen, Hochhalter said. Its just really unfortunate he chose this way to deal with it. ..more.. by Susanne Nadeau and Stephen J. Lee, Herald Staff Writers

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