Lasaga gets 15 years in federal prison

HARTFORD — Former Saybrook College Master and geology professor Antonio C. Lasaga was sentenced yesterday in U.S. District Court here to 15 years in federal prison on two child pornography counts.

Lasaga, 52, pleaded guilty more than two years ago to charges of possessing and receiving child pornography, including nearly 150,000 digital images he downloaded through a Yale server. Prosecutors said some of these images, in addition to videos Lasaga produced, included a New Haven boy the former professor met through a school mentoring program.

In January, Lasaga pleaded no contest to six state felonies related to his abuse of the boy, including two counts of first-degree sexual assault. He is scheduled to be sentenced in Superior Court in New Haven this Friday, when he could receive up to 110 additional years in prison.

In announcing his decision yesterday, U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson said he took into account Lasaga’s “positive qualities and positive contributions.” But Thompson also said that in producing lewd images and video footage of the boy, Lasaga inflicted “extreme psychological injury” so severe that his victim might never be able to fully recover.

“It is clear that the victim had a significant part of his childhood stolen away by you,” Thompson told Lasaga.

Lasaga’s estranged wife and his eldest son addressed the court on Tuesday and spoke about the good Lasaga had done. Evelyn Lasaga also said he deserved leniency because of the undue pressure put upon him by his family.

But Thompson told Lasaga yesterday that the circumstances of his own childhood could not compare to the suffering he brought upon the boy, as well as the other children depicted in the images he collected.

“I believe there is a lack of appreciation on your part for the harm suffered by your victims,” Thompson said.

Diane Polan, Lasaga’s attorney, said the entire issue of the boy’s suffering should have come up only in state court, where Lasaga faces sexual assault charges. Polan said the judge overstepped his bounds in using the boy’s emotional trauma as a factor in Lasaga’s federal sentence.

“I respectfully disagree with the judge’s consideration of the pain the boy felt,” Polan said. “Since it did indeed contribute to his federal sentence, the state court should take note of that and adjust its sentence appropriately.”

Polan, who had asked for a sentence of nine to 11 years, said she plans to appeal Thompson’s sentence. Federal law requires that appeals be filed within 10 days.

In addition to the federal prison time, Thompson ordered Lasaga to undergo a three-year supervised release after he gets out of prison. During this time, he will have to regularly attend a sex offender treatment program and submit to regular drug screenings and polygraph tests.

Thompson also forbade Lasaga from using the Internet or any data-encryption program and from having any type of contact with persons under the age of 18 without explicit permission from a court-appointed probation officer.

Lasaga resigned from his position as Saybrook master on Nov. 6, 1998, the same day that a team of FBI agents and police officers searched his official residence after receiving a tip from graduate students about computer files Lasaga had downloaded on his laboratory and home computers.

Yale President Richard Levin fired Lasaga in April 2001 after the University Tribunal recommended his dismissal.

Lasaga pleaded guilty to federal charges of receiving and possessing child pornography as part of a plea bargain in early 2000. His attorney sought to overturn one of the guilty pleas on constitutional grounds, and sentencing was delayed pending the resolution of a similar case before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

While that case has not yet been decided, Thompson said Lasaga’s sentence was appropriate regardless of the appeals court’s eventual decision.

On Tuesday, prosecutors asked for a 20-year sentence for Lasaga. Although the sentence Thompson imposed fell short of that, U.S. Attorney John A. Danaher III said he was pleased with the judge’s decision.

“It shows that no one, regardless of privilege, will avoid justice in the U.S. District Court in the state of Connecticut,” he said.

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