Former RU Professor Sentenced to 15 Years

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by MELISSA POWELL

RADFORD — A former Radford University criminal justice professor will spend 15 years in prison after pleading guilty on Thursday to child pornography and drug charges. haft1


Taj Mahon-Haft, 35, entered pleas in city Circuit Court to 50 counts of possession of child porn, three counts of possession of a Schedule I or II drug, resisting arrest, obstructing justice and possession of marijuana.


Judge Joey Showalter accepted a plea agreement, sentencing Mahon-Haft to 100 years in prison with 85 years suspended. Mahon-Haft will be placed on 10 years of supervised probation upon release.


Mahon-Haft had been facing 50 additional counts of possession of child porn but those were dropped Thursday — along with nine counts of production of child porn and one count of assaulting a police officer — by city Commonwealth's Attorney Chris Rehak.


Mahon-Haft spoke only when answering the judge's questions about his plea and to ask if he could be moved from the New River Valley Regional Jail to a state prison as quickly as possible.


Lloyd Snook, a Charlottesville-based lawyer on Mahon-Haft's defense team, said after the sentencing that for some reason, Mahon-Haft has been in isolation for nine months.


"He couldn't abide the possibility of more delays in the trial or a bad result," Snook said. "He didn't have the stomach to fight it farther."


Mahon-Haft's legal troubles began when two Radford police officers entered his home in the 2000 block of Third Street on Dec. 22, 2012, after a contractor working nearby reported that a door was open at the residence.


The police officers involved have testified that they entered to check on a potential burglary or any injured occupants inside.


haft2Officer Ben Mullins has testified that while he and Cpl. Kayla Stultz were clearing and securing the house, he saw, in plain view, a white powdery substance, a razor and what he knew to be marijuana. Mullins has said that he then left to obtain a search warrant.


Mahon-Haft was charged with possessing pentedrone, alpha-Pyrrolidinovalerophenone (alpha-PVP), 4-Fluoroamphetamine (4-FA) and marijuana. The first three are Schedule I drugs found on Virginia's list of regulated synthetic drugs, often marketed as "bath salts."


Mahon-Haft told authorities that the bath salts were for academic purposes and later submitted a paper to the prosecution that he said was part of his ongoing research into the drugs, Rehak said. In April, Mahon-Haft ceased to be an employee of Radford University, where he had previously taught a "War on Drugs" seminar.


Police seized laptops and hard drives as part of the drug investigation, which led to the discovery of child pornography images and videos, according to testimony. Rehak said Thursday that about 10,000 images and videos were discovered on Mahon-Haft's devices.


Mahon-Haft's resisting arrest and obstructing justice charges were the result of him swinging at or hitting one of the police officers who attempted to arrest him, Rehak has said.


A variety of different sex acts were depicted in the images and videos recovered, Rehak said. One, for example, was a foreign commercial involving a child that listed contact information for individuals who were "interested" in the child, Rehak said.


"There was no evidence [Mahon-Haft] hurt children or manufactured new images of child pornography," Rehak wrote in an email. "Those who collect these images support and encourage more sexual child abuse by perpetuating the market."


Snook said after the hearing that prosecutors never revealed which images they relied on for the charges. Some of the pictures and movies were of vacations and family members. But some, he said, would be considered adult and child porn.


Both Snook and Turk said that they were disappointed they wouldn't have the opportunity to appeal the case since Mahon-Haft pleaded guilty. Snook said he thinks they could have won an appeal based on a search and seizure issue that they've previously brought up in court.


The defense lawyers have argued that officers on Dec. 22, 2012, were not aware of any criminal activity, could not see evidence of criminal activity from outside the open door and had no reason to enter Mahon-Haft's home.

 

Snook and Turk filed a motion to suppress the evidence collected from what they said was an illegal entry, but Showalter denied that motion earlier in the year.


Kathi-Jane Alvarado, Mahon-Haft's mother, said her son will find a way to be a productive member of society both while he is incarcerated and after he is released. She said she's confident that Mahon-Haft did not possess child porn.


"I'm not a happy lawyer today," Turk said after the hearing. "We had someone go to jail for much longer than deserved."

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