Former trustee pleaded guilty to child porn charge
Charles E. “Chuck” Hustis III, a former Cold Spring trustee and mayoral candidate who pleaded guilty last year to the attempted receipt of child pornography, was sentenced by a federal judge on Tuesday (April 6) to five years in prison.
Hustis, 37, was arrested in December 2019 by FBI agents in the Foodtown parking lot in Cold Spring, where he was waiting to meet a 16-year-old boy for sex. According to an investigator’s report, Hustis sent explicit photos via Facebook Messenger to the teen, who knew him as a former substitute teacher at Haldane.
The FBI said Hustis admitted he earlier had contacted a second 16-year-old through Facebook Messenger. He asked each teen to send explicit photos and meet for sex, prosecutors said. In the first case, the boy did not show up for a meeting at Dunkin’ Donuts, and in the second FBI agents arrested Hustis, investigators said.
Neither teen sent photos, but under federal sentencing guidelines, there is no distinction between the attempted or actual receipt of child pornography. The age of consent in New York is 17.
Hustis pleaded guilty on Nov. 19 as part of a deal in which prosecutors dropped a charge of child enticement, which carries a minimum sentence of 10 years. On Tuesday, a federal prosecutor asked Judge Cathy Seibel to impose a sentence of 9 to nearly 12 years, citing Hustis’ “betrayal” of the community because of his past service as an elected official and teacher.
Following the sentencing, Hustis was sent to the Westchester County Jail, where he will remain until assigned to a federal facility by the Bureau of Prisons. With good behavior, he could be released in mid-2025. After his release, he will serve seven years of probation with strict restrictions on his use of the internet and proximity to minors, pay a $5,500 fine in monthly installments of $50 and be compelled to register as a sex offender.
In making the case for the minimum sentence, Benjamin Gold, Hustis’ public defender, said that his client had suffered verbal and physical abuse at home as a child, bullying by classmates at Haldane and homophobia as an adult. Hustis worked at Foodtown in Cold Spring for 13 years, until 2019, when he was fired following his arrest. He worked as a substitute at Haldane from 2012 to 2016.
Hustis served on the Cold Spring Village Board from 2010 to 2014 and ran unsuccessfully for the Haldane school board in 2015. He challenged incumbent Mayor Dave Merandy in 2019.
Gold cited a “psychosexual evaluation” of Hustis by Meg Kaplan, the director of the sexual behavior clinic at Columbia University, who concluded that Hustis is not a pedophile and that his “risk of re-offense is remote.”
However, Seibel suggested that Hustis had manipulated Kaplan, telling her what she wanted to hear. By contrast, Seibel said, a psychologist assigned by the U.S. Probation Office to interview Hustis “called him out on a number of lies and minimizations and didn’t give nearly as cheerful an analysis.”
Seibel also noted that Hustis began sex-offender treatment only after a hearing in which the judge expressed surprise that he was not in treatment. “It looks to me like it was done so it could be presented at sentencing,” she said.
Asked if he had anything to say, Hustis told the judge he was remorseful and embarrassed. He apologized to the boys involved and their families and said he had “entered into treatment to take steps to move my life forward, and hope that the court will allow me to have the opportunity to rehabilitate. I recognize I have to face consequences for what I have done.”
Seibel said that, while she was imposing the minimum sentence, she believed Hustis had not come to terms with his crime. “It wasn’t simply that Mr. Hustis is less mature than his years and, in some way, he thought he was dealing with a peer,” she said. “He was acutely aware he was dealing with a kid [and] explicitly said to the kid, ‘It’s illegal for me to have sex with you, so we need to do it where we don’t get caught.’
“The whole arc of their chats was the defendant portraying himself as the experienced daddy figure and the one who would teach this boy to have sex,” she said. “He had some fairly elaborate conversations about where to meet and when, and what they were going to do… He discussed all the things they would do together in a meeting that would occur during the victim’s free period at school.”
Seibel said she was “not buying” an argument made by the defense that Hustis had acted impulsively. “This went on for more than a week, and the defendant could have bailed out any number of times… Thank goodness nothing happened beyond the defendant providing photos and an exchange of words. It’s a serious offense but it could have been a lot more serious had it worked out the way Mr. Hustis wanted it to.”
Addressing Hustis after she imposed the sentence, and before he was told to empty his pockets and was escorted from the courtroom, the judge said: “When you get out, I’m going to be very disappointed if there are violations of your [probation] conditions. It’s going to make me regret giving you a break. I don’t expect to see you again, because I think you do intend to do the work.”