Former Assemblyman Chris Ortloff considers himself healed from the perverse desires he says he discovered in himself through the online world of sexual fantasy.
But he admits he needs to continue counseling as he begins a 12.5-year federal prison sentence, handed down Tuesday, for using the Internet to set up a sexual tryst with minors.
As the 62-year-old asked for mercy during his sentencing in federal court, he made no excuses for his actions and described in detail how, he said, the Internet took over his life and brought out inappropriate feelings he’d never had before.
“I didn’t know how dangerous it was,” he said as he encouraged others to stop similar online behaviors and not follow in his downward spiral of shame.
Speaking before U.S. District Court Judge Thomas J. McAvoy, Ortloff recalled how he lived the American dream and lost it all to an Internet addiction, in which, he said, he gradually created online personas that allowed him to engage in illegal behavior that he never dreamed he would.
The Internet, he said, “can slowly entice you into a nightmare ... I did not have those (sexual) interests before I went online.”
As he offered insight into his actions, Ortloff took full responsibility for his crimes and said he would one day leave prison “as a better man.”
“I’m not trying to justify what I did. And I’m not trying to make excuses. It was my choice,” he said before a courtroom where several members of his family sat in his support.
At times, Ortloff seemed to struggle to compose himself but never faltered in his acceptance of his actions as he spoke of family and God and quoted Shakespearean philosophy.
FAMILY FORGAVE HIM
Though he asked for mercy as he faced a potential life sentence, Ortloff said he’s “already received a huge measure of mercy” by having the forgiveness of those he loves, especially his wife, Ruth Mary, and two sons.
His real crime, he said, was committing adultery and straying from his family, whom he called the real victims of his actions.
But U.S. Assistant District Attorney Thomas Spina said there were other victims — not the fictitious girls he’d tried to entice online but the ones he victimized when he viewed child pornography.
“Each time (he collected child porn) he was victimizing the girls in those images,” Spina said as he pushed for a term of 15 to 19 years, calling Ortloff “a danger to society.”
In requesting the mandatory minimum term of 10 years, Ortloff’s attorney, Andrew Safranco, noted the vast disparities in state and federal sentencing guidelines for similar crimes and repeatedly reminded the court that Ortloff “never touched or had inappropriate contact with a minor.”
But in his sentencing, McAvoy said Ortloff knew what he was doing was wrong but continued the illegal online activity throughout the eight-month undercover police investigation that led to his arrest for arranging sex with two young girls.
Those girls never existed but were created as part of the investigation that ended with Ortloff’s arrest at a Colonie motel in October 2008.
Ortloff later pleaded guilty to the original charge of online enticement of a minor and, after a series of delays, returned to court for sentencing Tuesday afternoon.
Based on sentencing guidelines, which included consideration for Ortloff’s personal and professional history, McAvoy sentenced Ortloff to more than the minimum term, telling the local father he has “a real problem” and likely would have engaged in sexual contact with minors if he had had the opportunity.
McAvoy said he would support Ortloff’s request for possible treatment at the Federal Medical Center at Devens in Massachusetts, which is about an hour’s drive from his son’s home.
Ortloff was also fined $50,000 — which McAvoy said he had the resources to pay — and must register as a sex offender.
He will have to be supervised for the rest of his life upon his release.
Neatly groomed and wearing striped jail garb, Ortloff showed little emotion when the sentence was handed down.
After the proceeding, his sister, Susan Cameron, said there were no victims other than Ortloff’s family. She said he has their love and forgiveness.
She blamed the Press-Republican for “reprehensible” and “one-sided” coverage of the Ortloff ordeal.
Ortloff, a Republican, served as a member of the Assembly minority for 20 years in the 114th District.
He stepped down from that position in 2006 and was later appointed by then-Gov. George Pataki as a member of the State Board of Parole. He resigned from that board in the wake of his arrest.
Before entering politics, Ortloff was an anchorman for WPTZ News Channel Five. He also served as director of medals ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in his native Lake Placid in 1980.
Ortloff is expected to be transferred to a federal facility within a few days, after having been held in Columbia County Jail’s general population since he surrendered in April 2009.
Ortloff said he’s been adjusting to life behind bars and been a model inmate, even earning the status of jail trusty.
Before he was escorted from the courtroom, Ortloff said, “I’m sorry for what I did and to the people I let down.”
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