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Ex-Professor Held on Child Porn Charges

More than 60 images allegedly were found on his Cal Poly-issued computer. If he is convicted, he could get up to 15 years in prison.

September 24, 2003|Sally Ann Connell | Special to The Times

SAN LUIS OBISPO — A former professor and chairman of one of the largest departments at Cal Poly was arrested Tuesday on two felony charges of possessing child pornography on his university computer.

FBI agents arrested Safwat Moustafa, 63, in the morning at his home in Grover Beach -- about 10 miles south of San Luis Obispo -- on federal charges involving more than 60 images, according to U.S. Department of Justice officials.

Moustafa appeared before federal Magistrate Judge Willard McEwan Jr. on Tuesday afternoon in Santa Barbara, and he was released on a $200,000 appearance bond, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Rod Castro-Silva.

The arrest follows a controversial year for the university, which the local press dubbed "Cal Porny" after a divisive debate over whether to restrict professors from viewing and downloading pornography on campus computers.

Cal Poly officials issued a statement Tuesday saying that Moustafa, the former chairman of the department of mechanical engineering, left the campus in August 2001. The statement also said university police had referred the case to the FBI that summer.

The case began after a university technician repairing Moustafa's Cal Poly-issued laptop computer in 2001 found more than 10 images of child pornography, said Castro-Silva. University administrators instructed the technician to make a "mirror" of the hard drive and return the laptop to Moustafa, the attorney said.

Federal investigators, contacted by university police, obtained a search warrant to seize Moustafa's computers. Authorities filed two charges against him: one for the original images allegedly found by the technician, and one for more than 50 additional images of child pornography reportedly on the laptop.

Under federal guidelines, Moustafa could face up to 15 years in prison -- with some adjustments in the sentence possible, depending on the ages of the children.

"We are considering whether to appeal the decision to release him on bond," said Castro-Silva, who did not appear before the magistrate. Moustafa is expected to be arraigned Oct. 13 in Los Angeles.

Moustafa's tenure ended before the pornography debate began.

He had taught at the university for 17 years, and served for eight as chairman of the well-respected mechanical engineering department. He resigned in August 2001, after the FBI began its investigation.

The arrest follows a period of heightened attention to Cal Poly professors and others using university computers to download pornography.

Robert Heidersbach, former chairman of the materials engineering department, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of downloading 13,000 adult pornographic images over two months in 2002 on a university-issued computer.

After his case became public, materials engineering professor Linda Vanasupa tried to persuade university officials and others to support a policy against using publicly financed computers for downloading offensive material.

But she ran into strong opposition in some quarters of the campus as professors suggested that her proposal would limit their 1st Amendment rights.

A subcommittee of the Cal Poly Academic Senate rejected her suggestion 6 to 4 in May.

Some professors argued that the policy would have severely restricted their ability to teach, particularly in such subjects as biology, in which pictures of naked people are used in classes.

Vanasupa said Tuesday that she imagines Moustafa's arrest "will churn this all up again." But she said she does not have the energy to engage in the debate or fight for a new policy all over again.

After an egregious violation involving downloading pornography at San Diego State, that university adopted a policy that Vanasupa used as the model for her proposal.

"People don't realize that there was never going to be any punishment in what I proposed. Not even hints of enforcement," she said. "In fact, it probably wouldn't have prevented something like this current allegation. It was always more like saying we don't tolerate racism on campus."

Leah Kolt, spokeswoman for Cal Poly, said the university believed at that time that its own "responsible use" policy was adequate to deal with issues of pornography. That policy specifically prohibits downloading "child pornography or obscene materials."

Although the university policy does not bar the viewing and downloading of pornography in general, it stresses that officials will not tolerate actions that create a hostile work environment.

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