PHILADELPHIA - A federal judge temporarily nixed former Springton Lake Middle School Principal Troy Czukoski's plan to plead guilty to possession of child pornography Thursday, saying he believed the defendant needed more time to consider his options.
Czukoski, 42, a former administrator in the Phoenixville School District, was accompanied to court by his wife and defense attorney Joseph Green Jr. He stood before U.S. District Judge Legrome D. Davis and stated his intent to plead guilty to one count of possession of child pornography.
Federal authorities charged the former educator in March, several months after investigators found more than 150 pornographic images of minors on computer storage at Czukoski's Exton home.
Investigators from the U.S. Postal Service executed a search warrant at Czukoski's home on Oct. 18 of last year and seized two flash drives, CDs and DVDs, according to the information charging Czukoski. An examination of that material allegedly revealed more than 150, but less than 300, visual depictions of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct, the information states.
'You intend to enter a guilty plea in this matter?' Davis asked.
'Yes, your honor,' replied Czukoski, who resigned his short-lived position as principal of the middle school shortly before the charge was filed.
Davis told Czukoski that he doesn't automatically accept every guilty plea, stressing that it must be the defendant's choice. The judge also said he needed to be convinced that any defendant pleading guilty understood fully the magnitude of the plea.
'It is my choice to plead guilty in this matter,' Czukoski said. 'The government believes I was in possession of some videos …'
The longtime educator told the judge he was pleading guilty 'to avoid stricter charges that might bring greater consequences.'
'I respect that what I had in my possession is considered to be child pornography,' he said.
Davis wasn't convinced. 'I hear a lot of hesitation on your part,' he told Czukoski, adding that the defendant should consider a jury trial.
Davis said he had read the documents filed in the court case and knows that Czukoski is a 'highly intelligent man … capable of understanding at a much deeper level as to what he's done.'
Czukoski has 20 years of education experience, including earning his Ph.D. in educational philosophy. He served in the U.S. Army and the Pennsylvania National Guard.
A graduate of West Chester Henderson High School, he resides in Chester County with his wife and three children.
Telling Czukoski that 'further conversations need to occur,' and denying Green's request to address the court, the judge continued the matter to a later date.
After the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Rotella, who is prosecuting the case, said that while the judge's move is somewhat unusual, it has been done before.
No new hearing date has been set.
Information from the Delaware County Daily Times, www.delcotimes.com