Utah funeral home director pleads not guilty to luring teens online
A director at a Taylorsville-based funeral home on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to federal charges alleging he surreptitiously filmed minors undressing and posed as a 17-year-old online to lure juveniles into sending him nude photos of themselves.
Spencer Scott McDougal, 54, who was employed by McDougal Funeral Home prior to his arrest, was charged in U.S. District Court this week with felony production of child pornography and enticement for illegal sexual activity.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges Wednesday at an arraignment before U.S. Magistrate David Nuffer. A four-day trial is tentatively scheduled to begin May 1 before Judge Dale Kimball.
According to charging documents, McDougal adopted the persona of "James Zupo Marsden" on a fake Facebook profile and claimed he was a 17-year-old living in Idaho who had previously lived in West Jordan.
McDougal allegedly contacted a teenaged girl through the website in January and forged a relationship. The two communicated through Facebook and email, the documents state.
After several months of communication, the girl took nude photos of herself with a cell phone and sent them to McDougal, believing he was a teen, the documents state.
Meanwhile, a local church leader contacted the Department of Children and Family Services in May to report that an anonymous person had observed child pornography on McDougal's home computer. One of the videos showed a minor walking around a bedroom in a towel, the documents state.
The Taylorsville Police Department began investigating the case and McDougal admitted during a June interview that he purchased a "nanny cam" that he hid in places where juveniles changed clothing or were naked, the documents state.
McDougal transferred videos from the nanny cam to his computer, he said. Computer analysts at the FBI's Regional Computer Forensics Lab discovered "several videos and images of a minor in various stages of undress which appeared to have been taken by the nanny cam," the documents state.
Investigators also discovered sexually explicit images of a 16-year-old girl on McDougal's computer.
A computer seized from McDougal's private office at the funeral home provided evidence he had been operating the fake Facebook account and storing "several hundred" nude photos of minors on his cell phone and thumb drives, the documents state.
The complaint states that three alleged victims were interviewed before McDougal's arrest, but investigators are continuing to examine whether other alleged victims fell prey to McDougal's advances.
At Wednesday's hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carol Dain told Nuffer that McDougal has been warned about witness tampering in the case, after apparently contacting one of the alleged victims.
McDougal's attorney, David White, said that McDougal had stopped any attempts to contact the alleged victim.
McDougal has been ordered held in the Davis County jail in the custody of U.S. Marshals as his court case proceeds.
His attorney asked Nuffer to reconsider granting McDougal's release, but Nuffer declined to take up the detention issue at Wednesday's hearing. U.S. Magistrate Samuel Alba previously ordered McDougal to be detained.
Several supporters of McDougal attended Wednesday's hearing, but declined to comment after the hearing. White said he could not discuss the details of his client's case or reasons behind the not guilty plea.
If convicted, McDougal faces a 15-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for the production of pornography charge alone, and additional time for the enticement charge.