Lasaga to face federal resentencing today



Former Saybrook Master and Yale geology professor Antonio C. Lasaga, who pleaded guilty to one count each of possession and receipt of child pornography in 2000, is scheduled to be resentenced today in Hartford, officials at the office of U.S. District Court Judge Alvin W. Thompson said.

In February, Thompson sentenced Lasaga, 53, to 15 years in prison for receiving and possessing over 150,000 images of child pornography. In May, that sentence was thrown out by the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

Lasaga will serve the new federal sentence concurrently with a 20-year state sentence for sexual assault that he received in January, when he pleaded no contest to sexually molesting a New Haven boy who he was mentoring.

Federal sentencing guidelines use a point system that combines an offender’s criminal history with the severity of the offense. After calculating these factors, a judge then need only look at a table to determine the minimum and maximum sentence. In Lasaga’s case, the judge ruled that the extreme psychological damage to the child and Lasaga’s enormous collection of child pornography justified an “upward departure” from the recommended sentence of 11 years.

The Court of Appeals agreed with Lasaga’s attorney Diane Polan, who argued that Thompson’s findings did not support an upward departure based on severe psychological harm to the victim. The court sent the case back to Thompson for resentencing.

Polan did not return calls to her office Thursday.

U.S. Attorney John A. Danaher III said the government will not contest the 2nd Circuit Court’s decision, but will argue that Lasaga’s sentence should remain at 15 years. In previous hearings, Polan has argued that a sentence of 11 years is appropriate.

“We’re trying to go back to where we were and we think we have the basis for it,” Danaher said.

Danaher said the upward departure can still be justified by reconsidering several aggravating factors. The government will argue that three points, rather than the original two, should be added because of the volume of child pornography Lasaga possessed.

Other allegations of child molestation against Lasaga will also be brought up during sentencing.

“He’s been the subject of complaints over a number of years by children who’d claimed they had been fondled,” Danaher said.

Though Lasaga was never charged in the incidents, Danaher said, they can still be considered by the judge in determining the sentence. In the first sentencing hearing, Thompson ruled that both aggravating factors could be given weight, but decided that the 15-year sentence was sufficient.

In the May appeal, Polan also argued that the statute used to convict Lasaga was unconstitutional because the government could not prove that each pornographic image depicted an actual child. Under the U.S. Supreme Court decision Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, virtual child pornography constitutes free speech and cannot be outlawed. The court rejected Polan’s argument and upheld the conviction.

The court also rejected Polan’s contention that Lasaga’s sentence could not be increased because of the sheer number of pornographic images Lasaga possessed.

The resentencing should not affect the civil case against Lasaga by the family of the victim, said attorney Fred Trotta, who is representing the family in the suit.

“It doesn’t matter to the civil case whether he serves a day or a week or a year or the rest of his life,” Trotta said. “The family, of course, they have very strong feelings about this gentleman.”

Trotta said the civil trial is scheduled for early next year.

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