Judge sends child porn cases to trial

Stephen Apostolu is escorted into his arraignment on child porn charges in this July 18 file photo. After a two-hour preliminary hearing on Friday, Magisterial District Judge Ben Jones sent four cases against Apostolu on to Blair County Court. Mirror file photo

An Altoona man at the center of a child pornography and child prostitution investigation will face trial on more than 56 felonies.

Magisterial District Judge Ben Jones found police and prosecutors have enough evidence to send four cases involving four girls between the ages of 15 and 17 against Stephen Apostolu on to Blair County Court after a two-hour preliminary hearing Friday.

Altoona police Detective Cpl. Terry Merritts testified police learned Apostolu was addicted to child pornography and, along with his girlfriend, Kara Tornatore, was actively trying to recruit young girls for sexual photos and videos.

Apostolu’s defense attorney, John Siford, tried to chip away at the edges of the evidence Merritts and state police Trooper Kathryn Kaminsky testified had been gathered in the four criminal cases filed against the 30-year-old, but police even had Apostolu’s own words to use against him.

Merritts testified it was Apostolu who wanted to talk to police on June 5 while Merritts investigated a robbery in which Apostolu was a suspect.

Merritts said Apostolu told him he was addicted to child pornography and had wanted to get help but was afraid he would get arrested.

“He stated as a teenager he had low self-esteem and had been incarcerated for a long time,” Merritts testified.

“He related he was making up for lost time and it was the natural progression of things,” Merritts said of Apostolu’s explanation as to why he was addicted to young girls and child pornography.

When police started looking into Apostolu’s claims, they found he was trying to recruit young girls in the area to make child pornography and to offer child prostitution services, Merritts testified.

Merritts testified Logan Hills resident Angela Meadows told him Apostolu offered her money and supplied her with methamphetamine to try to persuade her to allow him to photograph her daughters, ages 9 and 13. Meadows told police she refused.

Meadows and a friend, Joshua Dickson, were both arrested June 5 after allegedly admitting to police they would get together to smoke methamphetamine while Meadows’ oldest daughter watched the youngest child and Dickson’s two young children.

They both face dozens of child endangerment charges and on Wednesday, police added charges after allegedly learning Dickson gave Meadows’ 13-year-old daughter marijuana to smoke while she was babysitting. On one occasion, Dickson had the girl come to his home alone and then provided methamphetamine-laced pot to the girl.

Meadows also told police about a gym bag Apostolu allegedly carried with him containing an array of electronic storage devices. Those devices allegedly contained child pornography, both “commercial” and images and photos produced by Apostolu, Merritts told the court Friday.

The sheer amount of material to sift through means it is still being analyzed by the state Attorney General’s Child Porno­graphy Unit, Merritts said.

Along with Meadows and Dickson, police also gleaned information about Apostolu’s alleged crimes from 35-year-old Amy Brosch. Merritts testified that Brosch, also a former Logan Hills resident, admitted introducing Apostolu to a 17-year-old girl whom Apostolu took photos of in sexual poses and also filmed performing a sex act with himself, Merritts said. Brosch told police that Apostolu had “nagged her” and promised to pay $100 if she got the girl to agree to making the video and posing for photos.

He also told Brosch they could make a lot of money by prostituting the girl out to older men, with Brosch’s apartment to be used as their base of operations, Merritts said.

Merritts also testified Tornatore and Apostolu took pictures and shot a video with a naked 16-year-old. Police found 15 images and a video of the girl, with seven of the photos depicting the girl, naked and in sexual poses with Tornatore, Merritts said. The video was made of the photo shoot without the girl’s knowledge, the detective added.

Kaminsky testified she talked to two other girls who were both 15 when Apostolu attempted to get them to pose for him. The couple plied one of the girls with alcohol after she refused to pose for them. The other girl was also propositioned and also refused, but Kaminsky testified the girl ultimately agreed to posing in lingerie because she felt scared.

“Tornatore told her she was going to get photos one way or another and she wasn’t leaving until she got them,” Kaminsky told the court.

Kaminsky also testified the investigation confirmed Apostolu’s claims to police he was associated with the Latin Kings street gang after state police checked with the Florida Department of Corrections, where Apostolu — a Florida native — served time.

Siford argued that many of the alleged crimes only involved Tornatore, pointing out that Apostolu wasn’t charged with conspiracy in one case. In the case of one of the 15-year-old girls, Apostolu wasn’t home when Tornatore got her to pose in lingerie and tried to talk her into having sex with Apostolu when he got home from work.

“It’s Miss Tornatore who initiates these things,” said Siford.

In that case, a felony charge of unlawful contact with a minor was dismissed after prosecutors offered no testimony to back it up, given Apostolu was not at home.

Assistant District Attorney Nichole Smith argued that, while conspiracy was not charged, Apostolu was an accomplice and therefore also liable for the crimes.

“You know Kara was doing it with his help, at her request, for his benefit,” Smith said.

Apostolu’s remaining 61 charges, mostly felonies that range from counts related to the making and possession of child pornography and trafficking in minors to sexual exploitation of children and corruption of minors, were all bound over for further proceedings in Blair County Court.

Apostolu was remanded to Blair County Prison on Friday with his bail remaining at $600,000 cash. He is due to appear in Blair County Court for a formal arraignment in October.

Tornatore is currently in Florida awaiting extradition to Blair County to face similar charges. Brosch has waived her charges on to court, and Meadows and Dickson remain in jail with a preliminary hearing on Sept. 26.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.

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