Ex-High School Choir Director Pleads Guilty to Posing as Teenager Online to Engage in Sexually Explicit Chats With Underage Girls

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a former music teacher who directed the choir at Ocean Township High School pleaded guilty today to manufacturing child pornography and other crimes. He admitted that he posed as a teenager online and sent obscene materials to underage girls – including three of his choir members – while soliciting them to expose themselves on a webcam or send him nude photos or videos.

Arthur N. Ernst III, 28, of Cranford, N.J., pleaded guilty before Superior Court Judge Joseph P. Donohue in Union County to second-degree manufacturing child pornography, third-degree impairing or debauching the morals of a child under 16, and third-degree promoting obscene material to a person under 18. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Ernst be sentenced to eight years in state prison, including three years of parole ineligibility. He will be required to register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law and will face parole supervision for life. Ernst also must surrender his state teaching certificate and is permanently barred from public employment. He was terminated from his teaching job at Ocean Township High School following his arrest on April 21, 2011.

Deputy Attorney General Anand Shah took the guilty plea for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau. The case was investigated by the New Jersey State Police Digital Technology Investigations Unit. Sentencing for Ernst is scheduled for Aug. 28.

“We count on teachers to be guardians of our students, but Ernst turned that expectation on its head, using the anonymity of the Internet to sexually stalk girls he taught in the school choir, as well as numerous other underage girls,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “This type of predatory behavior against children must be met with the harshest punishment.”

“Sexual predators like Ernst are a parent’s worst nightmare,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “This case highlights the dangers of the Internet and reminds parents to teach their children that people they encounter online are not always who they seem to be.”

“Arthur Ernst betrayed his community and his profession when he chose to use the Internet to deceive and exploit children for his own illicit, carnal behavior,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “This unfortunate situation is a reminder for parents to closely monitor how their children use the Internet.”

Ernst admitted that in late 2010 and early 2011, prior to his arrest, he posed as a teenage boy to engage in sexually explicit online chats with three members of his school choir – all girls under the age of 16 – in which he tried to get them to expose themselves on a webcam or send him naked photos or videos of themselves. An investigation by the New Jersey State Police revealed that Ernst sent photos or videos of naked young men to the three students, pretending they were images of the boy he was role-playing, in order to encourage the victims to expose themselves. Those three students did not expose themselves to Ernst, despite his repeated efforts. Ernst targeted the victims using computer contact information such as AIM and Skype screen names, including contact information provided to him as a teacher.

Detectives seized two laptop computers from Ernst’s home on the day of his arrest. A forensic examination of the computers revealed he possessed numerous images of child pornography. It also revealed that, beyond the choir members, Ernst engaged in dozens of sexually explicit exchanges with additional minors, again posing as a teenage boy or girl and often harassing girls for naked photos or videos. In pleading guilty to manufacturing child pornography, Ernst admitted that in August 2010, he convinced a Colorado girl, age 12, to make and send him an iPhone video in which she undressed and exposed her breasts and genitals. Ernst sent the girl pornographic images and links to videos on a pornographic website to encourage her. The New Jersey investigation began when the Parker Police Department in Colorado referred that case to the New Jersey State Police.

Acting Attorney General Hoffman and Director Honig urged anyone who suspects improper contact by persons communicating with children on the Internet or possible exploitation or sexual abuse of children to contact the New Jersey Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Tipline at 888-648-6007.

Detective Sgt. Christopher Deangelis and Detective Christopher Camm led the investigation for the New Jersey State Police Digital Technology Investigations Unit, under the supervision of Lt. Cyril Bleistine. Deputy Attorney General Shah is prosecuting the case for the Division of Criminal Justice Computer Analysis & Technology Unit, within the Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Michael A. Monahan, Bureau Chief, and Deputy Attorney General Kenneth Sharpe, Deputy Bureau Chief.

Acting Attorney General Hoffman thanked the Parker Police Department in Colorado for their referral and valuable assistance in the investigation. Detective Shannon Brukbacher and Officer Jacob Schuster led the investigation for the Parker Police Department. Acting Attorney General Hoffman also thanked the Cranford Township Police Department in New Jersey for their valuable assistance.