AUBURN — Former Auburn City Councilor Joshua Shea pleaded guilty Thursday to three child sex crimes, admitting that he downloaded pornographic images of children under the age of 12 and convinced a 14-year-old California girl to perform sex acts on live video.

Shea, 39, of Auburn, was indicted on 12 child pornography charges in November 2014, eight months after he was arrested at his home and charged with a single count of possession of child pornography.

He was released from the Androscoggin County Jail on $500 bail and on the condition that he have no contact with children under the age of 18. He then entered an out-of-state, long-term treatment facility.

On Thursday, Shea admitted to three charges in a plea deal to dismiss the remaining nine charges. The most serious of the charges, sexual exploitation of a minor, is a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in jail and a $20,000 fine.

The possession charges are Class C felonies, each punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Shea has agreed to a term of 10 years in prison, provided all or a portion of that time is suspended. He also agreed to serve two years of probation.

The exploitation charge carries a mandatory minimum five-year sentence, but Active Retired Justice Joyce Wheeler, who is presiding over the case, has the discretion to reduce that time if the defense offers proof of mitigating circumstances.

Shea’s attorney, David Van Dyke, assured Wheeler on Thursday he intended to make an argument of “exceptional circumstances” to show why all jail time should be suspended. 

Shea, who helped found the former Lewiston Auburn Film Festival, has never denied the charges against him, Van Dyke said, but the defense intends to present an argument for the court to understand “why” Shea downloaded hundreds of pornographic images.

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Matulis, arguing for the state, intends to request that Shea serve the minimum five-year sentence, plus two years of probation.

After Shea entered his pleas, but before Wheeler accepted them, Matulis presented a summary of the prosecution’s case.

According to Matulis, in November 2013, a detective with the state’s Computer Crimes Task Force began an investigation into downloads of hundreds of pornographic images, identified an IP address for those downloads and tracked that address to Shea’s home computer. A search warrant was executed March 20, 2014, at Shea’s home, where Shea admitted he had been downloading the pornography for two to three years.

According to Matulis, Shea would download large groups of photos of children ranging in age from 2 to 14, and would delete the photos of the children under 5, keeping the remaining photos.

In addition, Matulis said, Shea had posed as a 20-year-old male model living in Miami on a Skype-like video and as a 17-year-old student who had recently relocated to Maine. In his student persona, he contacted a 14-year-old girl in Orange County, Calif., and encouraged her to take off her clothes on live video and to send him nude images of herself. Eventually, he convinced her to perform live sex acts, which he then recorded.

At the time of his arrest, Shea was a board member of the Lewiston Education Fund, the Great Falls Balloon Festival and the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council. He was elected to the Auburn City Council in 2011 and served until May 2013, during the same time that law enforcement officials say he was downloading pornographic images.

As part of his bail conditions, he is barred from having digital media or access to the Internet.

In addition to Maine’s Computer Crimes Task Force, investigators included the Secret Service and Homeland Security.

Shea was a part-time sports employee for the Sun Journal from 1993 to 1997, and a full-time newsroom employee from 1997 to 2000.

After Shea’s arrest, he was fired from his job as publisher of Lewiston Auburn Magazine and the Lewiston Auburn Film Festival was canceled. The magazine has since restarted operations under different management and a new film festival — Emerge — was founded in 2014.

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