Ex-children’s museum leader pleads not guilty to child porn

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A former leader of a Connecticut children’s museum has been charged with distributing images of child sexual abuse online, including while he worked for the museum.

Robert Eckert, 56, of Simsbury, former executive director of the Lutz Children’s Museum in Manchester, pleaded not guilty to one count of distribution of child pornography Thursday via a video conference in federal court in Hartford. He is detained pending a bail hearing Friday afternoon.

The museum, founded in 1953, offers educational programs and exhibits including live animals. It is known around the state as home to Chuckles, Connecticut’s spring-prognosticating groundhog.

Federal prosecutors announced Thursday that a grand jury indicted Eckert on Tuesday.

His lawyer, Trent LaLima, declined to comment Friday.

During the court video conference, LaLima said Eckert flew back to Connecticut from Florida on Wednesday night for the court proceeding and has known about the child pornography investigation for 10 months, the Journal Inquirer reported.

LaLima said that Eckert is married with children and that his wife is willing to put up the $125,000 to $150,000 equity in the family’s home, which she owns, as security for his bond.

Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to keep Eckert detained pending his trial.

Prosecutors allege Eckert distributed images of child sexual abuse and communicated with others about the images using online platforms. They say he accessed the platforms on his phone, at his home and at the museum.

Museum officials referred questions Friday to the museum’s attorney, Ryan O’Donnell.

“The museum has cooperated with the federal investigation into Mr. Eckert and will continue to assist investigators as necessary and appropriate,” O’Donnell said in a statement. “To date, there is no evidence or allegations that any museum patrons or staff were impacted by Mr. Eckert’s alleged actions.”

O’Donnell said Eckert was placed on administrative leave when museum officials first learned of the allegations and was fired a short time later. He did not say when Eckert was fired. The museum is looking for a new executive director.

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