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Former Assemblyman Chris Ortloff
Former Assemblyman Chris Ortloff

Former Plattsburgh Assemblyman Chris Ortloff receives 12 year sentence after child sex plea

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Former Plattsburgh Assemblyman Chris Ortloff will spend the next twelve and a half years in Federal prison, following his sentencing yesterday in an Albany courtroom.

Once one of the most powerful Republican lawmakers in the North Country, Ortloff was arrested in 2008 after arranging what he believed was a sexual encounter with two pre-teen girls.

Before handing down the sentence, US district court Judge Thomas McAvoy told Ortloff that his crimes were "unbelievable" and "scary."

Brian Mann was in the courtroom yesterday afternoon and has our story.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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In May 2006, then-Plattsburgh Assemblyman Chris Ortloff announced that he would leave politics behind and take Governor George Pataki's offer of a position with the state Parole Board. "Our party needs to do its part in not just carrying its own message but making sure that it listens to the public, learns from them and then offers to lead them in the direction that people want to go," Ortloff said.

Once a prominent television anchorman, author and master of ceremonies during the 1980 Winter Olympics, Ortloff exited the public stage for the first time in decades.

But in October 2008, he was arrested in a Capital District hotel room as part of a State Police sting operation targeting pedophiles.

Ortloff later confessed that he attempted to arrange a sexual encounter with what he believed were two young girls, age 11 and 12.

The news sent shock waves through the North Country.  Assemblywoman Janet Duprey from Peru replaced Ortloff in the state legislature. "It's reprehensible when anybody promotes violence or sexual abuse against children. And I think it's particularly sad when someone in a position of trust and respect, violates the public trust. It's just horrible," say Duprey.

According to Federal court documents, Ortloff participated in an underground culture that communicates on the internet, preying sexually on young children.

Ortloff was eventually tricked by an undercover officer into believing that he was communicating with the mother, who was willing to let him victimize her daughters. In their conversations Ortloff spoke of his desire to train and educate the children about sexuality.

David Finkelhor, who heads the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, says that narrative is shared by some pedophiles. "It's a very misguided, erroneous notion about children's sexuality. They do a lot to kind of make this look like something positive, when it's simply indulging the sexual perversions of these individuals," say Finkelhor.

In court yesterday, Ortloff spoke at length about what he called his on-line sexual addiction. Speaking to US district court Judge Thomas McAvoy, Ortloff said he was living the American dream but "in my secret life, I crashed and burned." His voice breaking at times, Ortloff asked for mercy and claimed to be cured of his pedophilia after a brief stint of therapy and a short stay behind bars. After quoting at length from the Bible and from the plays of William Shakespeare, Ortloff said, "I was blind but now I see."

One of the observers in the courtroom was Bob Grady, managing editor of the Plattsburgh Press-Republican. "It's the greatest fall I've ever seen. To have to suffer that public humiliation, it's just unimaginable. I think justice was served when he setup that meeting in that colony hotel room. There's no turning back from that," says Grady.

Before handing down a 12 1/2 year sentence, Judge McAvoy described Ortloff's behavior as unbelievable, painful and scary. "You have a real problem", Judge McAvoy said. He also fined Ortloff $50,000 dollars and required him to submit to close monitoring and supervision for the rest of his life.

Speaking to reporters after the sentencing, Ortloff's sister, Susan Ortloff Cameron acknowledged his misdeeds, but she repeated the claim that no children were actually victimized. Cameron said, "Chris stumbled very badly and made some terrible mistakes in his life. The people who matter have accepted his mistakes. Chris has taken full responsibility for his actions and he's paying the price as he acknowledges. It's important to clarify that Chris' family are the only victims of any of his activities or of his crime. The polygraph proves it and the police investigations have not found otherwise."

That claim contradicts Ortloff's own assertions made during on-line chats that he did, in fact, molest other children. Ortloff now says those statements were part of his fantasy life.

But during the sentencing procedure, Federal prosecutor Thomas Spina pointed out that Ortloff also trafficked in child pornography, a crime that victimizes young children.

Speaking after the hearing, defense attorney Andrew Safranko noted that the 12 1/2 half year sentence is actually less than the 15 years suggested in Federal sentencing guidelines. "We were glad that Judge McAvoy departed from the sentencing guideline. We would have liked him to have gone further and issue the mandatory minimum sentence of 120 months," said Safranko.

Ortloff cooperated with police after his arrest, offering up information that led to the arrest of two other alleged pedophiles. Despite that cooperation, the 12 year sentence drew criticism from some in the North Country.

Republican Assemblywoman, Teresa Sayward from Willsboro told the Press-Republican that Ortloff's actions were unthinkable, adding "everyone was hoping he would get the maximum sentence".

One wrinkle here is that while behind bars Ortloff will continue to receive his state pension from New York taxpayers, amounting to more than $3,000 a month.

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