AUBURN — A former city councilor, local magazine publisher and film festival co-founder was sentenced Friday to serve nine months behind bars for sex crimes involving children.

Joshua Shea, 39, of Auburn must report to Androscoggin County Jail in one week. He has been free on $500 cash bail since his arrest in March 2014.

His complex history of sexual abuse, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, anxiety, sexual addiction and suicidal thoughts were revealed during a nearly three-hour hearing in Androscoggin County Superior Court on Friday.

Shea admitted at his plea hearing in May 2015 to downloading pornographic images of children under age 12 and coaxing a 14-year-old California girl to perform sex acts on live video, which he recorded.

Shea’s attorney, David Van Dyke, argued Friday for a fully suspended sentence; District Attorney Andrew Robinson argued that Shea should spend five years in prison for his crimes.

Androscoggin County Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler imposed a sentence Friday of eight years in prison, with all but nine months suspended, followed by three years of probation. Shea must register as a sex offender for life, after he is released from jail.

Shea had been a prominent member of the local community until his arrest two years ago.

At the time of his arrest, he was serving as a board member of the Lewiston Education Fund and the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council. He was elected to the Auburn City Council in 2011 and served until May 2013, at the same time he was secretly downloading pornographic images at his home, according to law enforcement officials.

Shea was publisher of Lewiston Auburn Magazine, a post from which he was fired after his arrest. He also was co-founder of the Lewiston Auburn Film Festival, which folded after his arrest and, under new management, re-formed in 2014 as Emerge.

Shea spoke at length, telling Androscoggin County Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler that his actions of viewing and collecting child pornography had been “disgusting” and “horrendous.”

“I am so regretful of that,” he said, referencing his time in an online chat room enticing girls to disrobe and masturbate. “That’s the thing that sticks in my gut every day.”

“There’s probably some real damage that I did to those kids and those girls,” said Shea, who noted that he has a teenage daughter.

“It’s shameful and horrible,” he said.

Shea also apologized to the residents of the Twin Cities.

“I absolutely betrayed the trust of all those people (in the community),” he said. “I loved this community. I thought we were turning a corner.” 

Wheeler said she considered the submitted testimony of a sexual addiction therapist from Palm Springs, Calif., before arriving at the terms of Shea’s sentence.

Although the exploitation charge carries a mandatory minimum five-year sentence, Wheeler, as the presiding judge, had the discretion to reduce that time if the judge were to decide that “exceptional features” of the case warrant a different sentence while considering the “nature and circumstances of the crime, the physical and mental well-being of the minor and the history and character of the defendant.”

That therapist had said in a taped interview that jailing Shea “would be the precisely wrong outcome in this case,” according to Van Dyke’s sentencing memorandum. It would “destroy the ‘good,’ which has animated much of Mr. Shea’s life to this point,” he quoted the therapist, Stephen Wolfson. “Mr. Shea poses no societal risk of recidivism.”

While that therapist gauged Shea’s risk of reoffending as low, Probation Officer Jason Taylor told the judge the state rated Shea’s risk as moderate.

Wheeler referenced the therapist’s prediction in explaining the sentence she gave Shea.

Wolfson had said Shea should be enrolled in a “robust sex offender program,” but not with others who are at higher risk of reoffending, Wheeler said.

By jailing Shea locally, he would be able to continue seeing his general therapist — who testified Friday — on a weekly basis, an important part of maintaining his mental health, Wheeler said. It also would enable him to more easily interact with his family and members of the community, which Wheeler said were also important factors in helping with his reintegration in the community.

“I know you know that if you screw up,” Wheeler told Shea, “that puts you at risk of at least three years” in prison.

Taylor said there are a couple of local sex offender programs that Shea could join after his release from jail. He had also recommended a three-year intensive sex offender treatment program available at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham before Wheeler decided on a jail term.

Shea’s wife, Melissa, and his father, Rick, addressed the judge, appealing for leniency.

They both said they were shocked when Shea was charged.

Melissa Shea said she hadn’t realized “how sick he was,” but she had been troubled by the way he had become withdrawn from her and their two children.

Rick Shea said he and his wife had noticed their son was a “workaholic,” but they only learned later of his other addictions.

Robinson said there was no one but him to speak for the victims of child pornography, who often go unidentified and unrescued.

“I have always struggled when it comes to child pornography cases,” he said, “because the only true way to convey the reality is to present all of the images gathered by the state in the course of its investigation. And if you saw those images, you would then see the vacant stares of the children that are involved. You would see the stomach-turning images and you’d be thinking to yourself, hopefully the parents are about to walk into this room and make it end or something’s going to interrupt this, but no interruption ever comes.”

In arguing for a five-year prison term, Robinson told Wheeler that Shea had been searching online for preteen hardcore images for several years.

Prosecutors had said at Shea’s plea hearing that in November 2013, a state police detective began investigating 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.

Investigators found that 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, 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 recorded.

The facts that Shea had a drinking problem, a family that cares about him, a history of abuse, and motivation to seek therapy were not exceptional features, Robinson told the judge.

“He knew what he was doing was wrong,” Robinson said. Moreover, he said Shea was, indeed, exceptional in that he had the resources to do something to fix his problems but only acted after he was caught.

Van Dyke said his client accepted full responsibility for his actions. He has worked since his arrest to come to terms with the “number of demons that were haunting him,” including taking his medications daily and halting his alcohol consumption, Van Dyke said.

“Josh has addressed this about as well as it can be addressed when someone wakes up one day with this horrible criminality,” Van Dyke said. Since his arrest, Shea has engaged in ongoing general therapy and attended two residential programs, one in California and one in Texas for substance abuse and sex addiction.

Wheeler told Shea that she had been disturbed by a journal he submitted to the court that showed him to be “very, very narcissistic” when he first underwent daily treatment, but she was heartened when he eventually began to display signs of empathy after he was assigned the task of writing a letter to his victims.

Conditions of Shea’s probation include: no use or possession of alcohol or illegal drugs for which he’s subject to random search and testing; no access to electronic devices that have access to the Internet, except as needed for work (Shea intends to seek freelance writing jobs); no contact with anyone younger than 18 years old, with the exception of his own children (under terms arranged by his wife, probation officer and sex offender therapist); no access to sexually stimulating materials; and taking all prescribed medications.

The sentence of eight years with all but nine months suspended was imposed on Shea for the charge of sexual exploitation of a minor. For the two charges of possession of sexually explicit materials, Shea received a concurrent nine-month sentence. 

“I think Judge Wheeler took the time to familiarize herself with a lot of information,” Van Dyke said after the hearing. “I thought the court reached the right conclusion and was very thoughtful in doing so.”

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