Public Safety

Former Barnstormers youth basketball coach charged with child porn wants video removed from evidence

Attorney argues USB drive with videos of naked youth athletes was obtained illegally

Greg Stephen
Greg Stephen

CEDAR RAPIDS — Lawyers for a former Barnstormers youth basketball coach, charged in federal court with child pornography and related charges, asked a judge Thursday to not allow video evidence of naked teenage boys at trial, claiming the evidence was obtained illegally.

Mark Meyer, lawyer for former coach Greg Stephen, 42, said a contractor, Vaughn Ellison, removed a USB device from a hidden camera in Stephen’s bathroom without his permission, which is theft.

It was then turned over to the Monticello Police Chief Britt Smith. Smith, without a search warrant, took the device and entered it into the department’s evidence locker, which violated Stephen’s Fourth Amendment right against illegal search and seizure, Meyer argued.

Ellison, 50, who owns Lakeside Construction in Monticello, testified he had known Stephen, 42, for about 30 years. His ex-wife is Stephen’s sister.

He was doing a remodeling job at Stephen’s home when he found the device Feb. 18 in a hall bathroom.

Ellison said he was “concerned and curious” because he knew it was a hidden camera and he knew teen basketball players sometimes stayed over at Stephen’s home.

In fact, there was one teen player sleeping in a bedroom at Stephen’s that day, and Ellison said that made him more concerned about the device. The hall bathroom was next door to that bedroom, he said.

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The Videos

Ellison said he viewed the device the next day and found at least 50 files, including individual files at the end with three different boys’ names on those.

He recognized one of the boys as the one he had met at Stephen’s home that day. The other unnamed files showed videos of young boys naked in a hotel bathroom. The boys were disrobing and going in and out of the shower and using the toilet.

Ellison said he never considered taking the device as theft. He was concerned about the boys’ safety.

What he found was “wrong” and “illegal,” he said, adding his son was a former player of Stephen’s. He admitted to waiting a few days before he texted Smith, telling him he needed to talk to him about a situation.

Smith, after calling Ellison and hearing what was in the videos, told Ellison to bring the USB device to the department Feb. 20.

Meyer asked Smith if Ellison talked to him about Stephen paying him for the remodeling job.

Ellison said he did because he was worried about not getting paid the $22,000 he was owed if Stephen might be investigated.

“Didn’t you get rewarded?” Meyer said. ”Didn’t he agree to slow down investigation until you got paid?”

Ellison said it wasn’t a reward; it was for work he had completed at Stephen’s home. And he didn’t know about the investigation. He said he received payment Feb. 20.

Ellison said he never talked to Smith about receiving a reward for turning over the device.

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Chief questioned

Smith testified he had talked to Ellison about the payment and knew Ellison was concerned, but he didn’t tell Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agents to hold off until the payment was made.

Smith kept the device in evidence until a DCI investigator came to Monticello on Feb. 21, and search warrants for the device and Stephen’s two homes were obtained. The video files were not viewed until authorities had the search warrants, he said.

Meyer asked why Ellison wasn’t charged with theft.

Smith said it didn’t warrant a theft charge. Ellison thought a crime was committed and reported it. Smith said he advised Ellison to turn over the USB drive.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Clifford Cronk asked if Smith considered a video of naked boys showering and disrobing to be sexual exploitation of minors and invasion of privacy, which includes having a hidden camera in a place that should be private, such as a bathroom.

Smith said he did. The device was evidence of a crime. Smith said he didn’t need a search warrant to obtain the device from Ellison but a search warrant was needed to view it.

‘Contraband’

The last witness, DCI Special Agent Ryan Kedley said “nudity in and by itself isn’t child pornography.”

But nudity of a child without authorization and other circumstances of the videos — such as a hidden camera set up to show only the shower and toilet area — make the videos child pornography. They could also be voyeurism, which Kedley said he considers child pornography.

Meyer argued authorities misled a judge to grant the search warrants for Stephen’s homes in Delhi and Monticello, and the warrants allowed authorities to search all of Stephen’s electronic devices for alleged child pornography.

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Cronk argued authorities had probable cause for child exploitation and invasion of privacy to look at the device. The item was “contraband,” and law enforcement was obligated to seize the device.

Plea deal

U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams will deliver a ruling on the defense motion in the next few days.

Cronk and Meyer also told Williams they are working on a conditional plea agreement on all but one charge and may go to trial on that one charge.

Stephen is charged with one count of transportation of child pornography and five charges of sexual exploitation of a child from 2011 through 2012 and possession of child pornography. He is accused of secretly recording naked teenage basketball players in a hotel bathroom. The videos were seized during a Feb. 22 search of Stephen’s residence in Monticello, court documents show.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and remains in jail pending trial, which is set for Oct. 22.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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