Computer Crime Research Center


Child porn case: city manager charged

Date: July 15, 2004
By: John Agar and Nate Reens, The Grand Rapids Press

BELDING -- Alison Pasch is sickened by allegations that Belding City Manager Mike Wood was looking at child pornography while he was supposed to be running the city.

"It's disgusting," Pasch, a Belding resident, said as she finished her grocery shopping Tuesday. "We don't pay taxes to pay his wages to have him get his jollies off looking at little kids. As far as I'm concerned, throw the book at him, fire him, do whatever they can for him using and abusing his job.

"I have no sympathy for him."

Wood, 36, was arraigned by Ionia District Judge Raymond Voet Tuesday, the same day he turned himself into police on 16 felony charges related to downloading pornography on his work and home computers.

Voet set a $70,000 bond for Wood, which the city manager posted at the Ionia County Jail and was released a short time later, jail officials said.

Wood, who was led into the courthouse in handcuffs and leg chains, is charged with 13 counts of possessing child-sexually abusive materials on his computers, two counts of using a computer to commit a crime and one allegation of misconduct in office.

If convicted, the married father could face up to seven years in prison.

Police say Wood downloaded pornographic images on his work computer in October 2001, a month after he started the job.

The Belding City Council has placed Wood on an unpaid leave of absence, pending the outcome of the criminal case. Wood must return his city car and cell phone and is not allowed on city property.

He was put on paid leave from the $70,000 per year job on April 23 after state police investigators, tipped by an outside source, searched city offices and confiscated Wood's computer.

Belding Mayor Shane Husted said the city felt it was "necessary" to change Wood's employment status. The city will review the state police investigation and render a final decision on Wood's employment after the court case concludes.

In the interim, Randall DeBruine, the city's finance director and treasurer, will serve as acting city manager.

Husted said he was shocked by the charges, but he said city services will not be affected by Wood's alleged impropriety.

"This is a small town. Everybody knows everybody, and it's difficult on all of us," Husted said. "I don't want to sound blase, but life will continue.

"To the majority of people, this is a transparent issue. It won't affect them."

Husted said the city had some filtering software for its computers, but will search for stronger safeguards. It also will develop an Internet use policy.

"We're not sure how this happened," Husted said.

As Wood joins other high-profile suspects accused of possessing child pornography, a forensic psychologist said Tuesday the cases should pose no surprise.

The Internet has created a link between offenders and victims -- and the demand has fueled the marketplace.

"The cases appear to be the kind of a typical sex offender who is just making use of the new technology to contact potential victims," said Dr. Anton Tolman, a forensic psychologist at Grand Valley State University.

"I don't think (the Internet) turns people into sex offenders who wouldn't have been. It just makes it easier for them."

Wood's attorney, Terry Tobias, said the allegations did not suggest Wood was a predator who attempted to reach out to children.

The charges allege only that he was a "person who looked at it, and kept it on his computer," Tobias said in court.

Wood could not be reached for comment, and no one answered the door at his home.

Ionia County Prosecutor Gail Benda said Wood possessed "many, many, many images (of) child pornography," including young girls involved in sex acts.

She said Wood and others create a market for child pornography that exploits young victims.

"It's more than just looking at child pornography," she said.

Tolman said the recent cases should prompt parents to closely monitor their children's Internet use.

He said some people think they will be anonymous on the Internet. Tolman can't explain why -- police can trace computerized paper trails.

"They can believe they're safe, somehow, or insulated. It's kind of a feeling of anonymity."

A Belding native, Wood graduated from Grand Valley State University in 1993. He previously worked as a project planner for a Grand Rapids company, and was zoning and planning administrator in Sturgis for four years.

Steve VanWagoner, a Belding resident, said his family has prayed for Wood since finding out about the allegations.

"This is a painful time for our community. It hurts," VanWagoner said. "We love Mike Wood, the Wood family. He's done a great deal for this community."

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Discussion is closed - view comments archieve
2005-10-22 11:51:13 - I agree that the privacy of individuals... Allen Rite
2005-06-06 23:27:05 - I read a lot of articles about child... Paul W. Gannello
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