Saturday, August 25, 2007

Department Store Scion Steven Strawbridge Pleads Guilty to Child Porn Charge.

PHILADELPHIA — A member of a famed department store family faces about five years in prison after pleading guilty Wednesday to a federal child pornography charge.

Steven L. Strawbridge Sr., 63, admitted his guilt as his wife and two adult children looked on in a courtroom just blocks from the family's flagship Strawbridge & Clothier store in downtown Philadelphia.

FBI agents say Strawbridge — tipped off by a son — was deleting his AOL e-mail account and dozens of pornographic images from his computer when they arrived at his house in the old-money suburb of Gladwyne.

Still, they said they recovered more than 100 sexually explicit images, some of which depicted children engaged in intercourse, bestiality and sadomasochistic acts.

Strawbridge, who told the judge he felt "anxious," said he was pleading guilty "because I am guilty of the charge."

He was released on bail pending his Nov. 28 sentencing, but was ordered to surrender his passport and continue in a sexual-treatment program.

"Forcing children to engage in this type of conduct is extremely damaging to children. People who consume that feed that destructive behavior," Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Zack said after the hearing.

FBI agents investigating a suspected large-scale pornographer came across e-mails from Strawbridge, who had given his son's address on the e-mail account. The FBI initially went to the son's house in April 2005, and he in turn called his father to say they were on their way, agents said.

Strawbridge was the former vice president and treasurer of the defunct Strawbridge & Clothier department store chain, founded in 1868. He is a son of G. Stockton Strawbridge, a high-profile civic leader, adventurer and longtime company chairman who died in 1997.

The Strawbridge family sold the company to May Department Stores in 1996 for $600 million. The downtown store is now closed.

Strawbridge faces 57 to 71 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, Zack said. Defense lawyer Eric W. Sitarchuk declined to comment.

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