PLATTSBURGH — Federal prosecutors on Tuesday asked for less leniency in the sentencing of Michael Fish, the SUNY Plattsburgh alumnus who admitted to possessing child pornography and stealing and distributing nude photos from college students.
Fish, according to his plea agreement, broke into multiple students’ social media accounts to steal nude and compromising photos and videos between 2016 and 2019, when he was a student at SUNY Plattsburgh and later at Albany Law School.
Fish would trade the images online and used them to create collages, his plea agreement said. His personal laptop was also found to contain nine child pornography videos during a search of his Albany apartment in March 2019.
Although he admitted to those offenses, prosecutors argued that because Fish submitted phony character letters in his defense to a U.S. District Court judge in December 2020, he should not receive a downward adjustment in his sentence for accepting responsibility.
“There is ample reason to conclude that [Fish] engaged in an elaborate scheme in which he doctored or falsified six character letters submitted through his prior defense counsel in connection with sentencing,” prosecutors said in a sentencing memo Tuesday.
The letters Fish’s defense submitted were purportedly sent from a priest, Fish’s mother, his grandparents and his former internship supervisor at U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik’s campaign office.
The doctored letter from Fish’s internship supervisor told the judge he believed Fish made mistakes but that he was not a threat to society.
“I wholly believe Mike’s positive impact to society thus far serves as testament that his troubles were a matter of isolation and he has the character, work ethic, and skills to remain a law abiding citizen,” the letter prosecutors said Fish edited read.
The supervisor was questioned about the letter by an FBI agent two days after they were filed in federal court. The supervisor told the agent they did not write the letter and that the letter closely mirrored a letter of recommendation to a grad program he did write for Fish four years earlier.
That led the FBI to question Fish, who admitted that he edited the recommendation letter to repurpose it into a letter defending his character. The other letters sent to the judge, according to an affidavit by the FBI agent, were either edited by Fish or completely fabricated.
Fish is now facing obstruction of justice and committing an offense while on release charges for the reportedly false letters.
Without the downward adjustment, prosecutors asked that Fish receive a nine-to-11-year sentence.
Fish’s attorney, meanwhile, requested that Fish receive a five-year sentence for two charges, computer intrusion and possession of child pornography, and two years for aggravated identity theft, the third charge he pleaded guilty to.
Fish’s attorney, Lawrence Elmen, said in a sentencing memo that Fish lives every day filled with “shame, regret and guilt” and offers “no excuses” for his “selfish, lustful and objectifying” conduct. Elmen said Fish’s childhood and unresolved issues led him to seek unhealthy outlets, including substance abuse and the offenses he would later be charged with.
“Michael Fish conformed himself to the external expectations of his family and our culture’s expectations for success, despite being deeply broken inside,” Elmen wrote in the memo, “which he treated through abusive alcohol consumption, daily marijuana use, prescription medications, cocaine, sex, and substantial amounts of pornography, which included naked photographs of his college classmates obtained through illegal access or anonymous trading with other unknown persons, and downloading nine video files from the internet which contained some images classified as child pornography.”
Elmen said Fish has since completed rehabilitative efforts to address his alcohol and drug dependency and his behavior.
Sentencing for Fish is scheduled for May 20 before U.S. District Court Judge Mae D’Agostino.