East End architect Jay Lockett Sears, once known for his propensity for wearing white suits and donning a pair of angel’s wings while promoting his Mission of Kindness foundation, was sentenced to time served and six months of additional house arrest on Friday in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, after pleading guilty last year to felony child pornography possession charges.
Mr. Sears, 75, who has been under house arrest in his East Quogue condominium since being released on $250,000 bond in February 2013, was also sentenced to 200 hours of community service by Judge Denis R. Hurley. Mr. Sears spent approximately three weeks in prison, at a facility in Nassau County, immediately following his arrest in January 2013.
Mr. Sears also received five years of supervised release, during which he will have to report to a probation officer. He also will have to register with local authorities as a sex offender under the U.S. Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, Assistant U.S. Attorney Allen Bode said. Mr. Sears’s lawyer, Richard Signorelli, noted that, given the circumstances, he anticipates his client will be deemed a level one sex offender, the lowest classification of offender, meaning that Mr. Sears’s name will not appear in the public directory on the website www.criminaljustice.ny.gov.
Before handing down the sentence, Judge Hurley said that Mr. Sears’s health and the public shaming he has had to endure since his arrest last year factored into his final decision. The judge noted that Mr. Sears, who walks with the assistance of a cane and braces on both his feet, has arthritis throughout his body, has had several melanomas removed and multiple hernia surgeries, and was also diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, characterized by decreased nerve function.
“Some 75-year-olds are young and some are old,” Mr. Signorelli said at his client’s sentencing. “He is a 75-year-old that’s old.”
During his 30-minute-long statement prior to sentencing, Mr. Signorelli pointed out that because of the manner in which Mr. Sears assembled the pornographic images—cutting out the faces of young girls from photographs, pasting them on top of images of nude adult women engaging in sexual acts, and then photographing the final product—it would be unlikely that anyone would believe the images were genuine.
Mr. Signorelli also said that no children were directly victimized by his client’s actions and he noted that Mr. Sears was creating the images for personal use exclusively.
“I appear before you this morning with great remorse knowing what I did was morally and legally wrong, and harmful to the victims, to my family, community and church,” Mr. Sears told the court prior to being sentenced.
“I apologize to everyone I’ve adversely affected because of my actions,” Mr. Sears said immediately after exiting the courtroom on Friday.
Mr. Bode, the lead prosecutor on the case, declined to comment after the sentencing. He had originally suggested a sentence of 24 to 30 months in prison, in line with federal guidelines, for Mr. Sears. Mr. Sears could have been sentenced to up to 10 years in prison prior to reaching a deal with federal prosecutors and pleading guilty to one count of possessing child pornography, a felony, rather than the six counts he was originally facing. There is no minimum sentence for the charge, and probation is permissible by law.
Last fall, Mr. Sears admitted in federal court to creating the images using faces of identifiable minors—in some cases using photos of children he met through his Quogue-based charity. His sentencing was delayed two times due to “scheduling conflicts and other issues,” according to Mr. Signorelli.
In exchange for pleading guilty to the lone count, officials with the U.S. District Attorney’s office agreed to dismiss the five additional child pornography possession counts—one for each of his additional victims—that had been filed against Mr. Sears. Still, officials explained at the time that while Mr. Sears was not required to plead guilty to those additional counts, the court would consider his conduct, as well as all his victims, at his sentencing.
“I am sincerely remorseful, and accept complete responsibility for having committed this crime,” Mr. Sears said while reading from a prepared statement during the court proceedings in September, after entering his guilty plea.
The images in question were discovered spilling out of bags in trash bins and Dumpsters across Suffolk County after Mr. Sears threw them away while moving out of his apartment in East Moriches. Mr. Bode said hundreds of images were discovered in the garbage by officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation while others still were in his home, some taped to his walls and bed posts.
Mr. Signorelli argued that Mr. Sears had “hoarder” tendencies but was trying to rid himself of the images by throwing them away—a point disputed by Mr. Bode.
“Mr. Sears stalked children in real life to take photographs of them for his own sexual pleasure—that’s very serious,” Mr. Bode said. “He didn’t discard them because he was no longer interested in them. He discarded them because he was moving, and there were hundreds of them.”
Investigators have said that Mr. Sears, the founder of the Mission of Kindness, even pasted photographs of his own head onto the images of the male bodies in the pornographic images, making it appear as if he was engaging in sexual acts with children.
“At the time I committed the offense, I knew that what I was doing was wrong,” Mr. Sears also said when pleading guilty to the one count. “However, because the visual depiction did not include a photograph of an actual minor’s naked body, I was not then aware that the private possession of such an image constituted a criminal offense.”
During his house arrest, Mr. Sears will be required to purchase and wear an electronic monitor and he will only be able to leave his home to go to his mandatory therapy sessions and medical appointments. However, he can venture from his home if it is required for his work as an architect; Mr. Sears said he has already received calls from those interested in his services.
As part of his five years of supervised release, Mr. Sears must undergo at least one polygraph test for risk management and treatment, according to Judge Hurley. Mr. Sears also must undergo treatment for “sexual disorders” and he will not be able to associate with any children under the age of 18 without a responsible adult present or without clearing it with a probation officer in advance.
Judge Hurley noted that while he could not make it a term of Mr. Sears’s conditional release, he was fairly certain that Mr. Sears’s probation officer would not allow him to complete community service around children. “He will not go in schools,” Judge Hurley said.