A judge has ordered a new sentencing hearing on child porn charges for motivational speaker Michael Fortino after confirming that letters of support sent on behalf of Fortino were fakes.
Last week U.S. District Judge Jimm L. Hendren sentenced Fortino to 11 years in prison, the minimum for Fortino's Feb. 26 guilty plea to transporting child pornography across state lines. Hendren said Tuesday he was influenced by letters urging leniency for Fortino.
At the new hearing, Fortino, 47, could face 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and lifetime supervision. Hendren had fined Fortino $10,000 and ordered 20 years of supervised release.
"I think it was done at the behest and obviously with the knowledge of Mr. Fortino," Hendren said. "A court must be able to sentence a person based on accurate information."
One fake letter was purportedly written by the father of a girl who had been secretly taped, prosecutors said.
The letter said the family had forgiven Fortino, that they were praying for him and that the incident was isolated and hadn't "placed the family in harm's way," Fayetteville police Detective Mike Parks said.
Hendren has not set a date for the new sentencing hearing. Fortino remains in the Washington County Jail, where he is being held for the federal prison system. Additional charges have not been filed.
Authorities looked into the letters after Candis Robinette of Jonesboro, who has an infant daughter with Fortino, called prosecutors to ask about the outcome of the sentencing. Prosecutors were surprised when she expressed disappointment that the sentence was not harsher because they believed she had written a two-page letter asking for leniency.
Robinette testified Tuesday she didn't write the letter, which misspelled her name and gave the wrong birth date of the child.
Robinette, who was five months pregnant when Fortino was arrested Nov. 30, 2005, weeks after a Fayetteville speaking engagement, said Fortino told her he'd broken up with his longtime girlfriend, that he'd never been married and lived on a yacht on Lake Erie. Fortino lived with his family in Pittsburgh.
The woman found out Fortino was already married the day after he was arrested. She said he also lied about the charges against him.
Also, Robinette testified that the signature appeared to be in Fortino's hand and that the birthdate was one he'd mistakenly used before. She testified that someone identifying herself as Fortino's sister called and asked her to say the letter was legitimate. Robinette refused.
Fortino tried to explain away the original matter by telling investigators that a computer virus was making child porn pop up on his computer. There was no such virus, authorities said. Fortino was also shown on video placing a hidden camera in a changing room on his boat. Fortino later edited the video to produce a video clip of a naked 11-year-old girl changing clothes.
After being tipped by a worker at a computer repair business where Fortino had left his laptop for service, Fayetteville police found more than 700 images of child porn on the computer, many showing the rape and sodomy of infants as young as 4 months.
Donna Brown, who wrote Fortino's presentencing report, said authorities would have asked for more prison time based on obstruction of justice had they known the letters were phony. The government also would not have gone along with a request for leniency for Fortino, based on his helping with a child porn case in California, Brown said.
Fortino's Web site at the Center for Lifestyle Management said at the time of his arrest he was an author and speaker whose clients include Exxon, Motorola, the Air Force and AT&T. Fortino has appeared on major cable channels and network television networks.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh police acknowledged this week that Fortino owned properties that were used by the city's witness protection program.
Police documents show Fortino's involvement in the program began in July, nearly two years after his arrest, and that two of his properties were used by witnesses in the program.
Pittsburgh police Cmdr. Thomas Stangrecki said he did not know if a background check on Fortino's real estate business, the Michael Mann Agency, was conducted before authorities used its homes. Federal authorities in Arkansas said they were looking into the matter.