Weinberg pleads guilty to possession of child porn

BY ZHI XIONG | APRIL 02, 2009 7:42 AM

Iowa City psychologist Howard Weinberg pleaded guilty to felony possession of child pornography — a federal offense — on March 31 and promised to turn over the material to the government.

Weinberg, 60, is free until June 30, when the court will set his sentencing date. Wednesday evening found him at home with his wife, Elizabeth.

She feels guilty for what happened last April.

A tip from a local computer store, where Weinberg’s computer landed for repair, led investigators to arrest the man for possessing dozens of videos and at least 600 images showing children engaged in sex acts.

“If I had known what was going to happen, I never would have taken the computer in,” Elizabeth Weinberg said. “I would never hurt my best friend that way.”

She was working on their tax forms on the machine when it crashed. Howard Weinberg was in Chicago at the time, she said, so she took it to Neo Computers, 702 S. Gilbert St., No. 110, for repair.

Records released Wednesday show while the computer-store employees transferred information from the hard drive, they opened files containing what appeared to be child pornography. Though workers initially faced disapproval for reporting the files, co-owner Alan Millage said he now feels certain of his decision.

“I’ve been waiting to hear about this case,” said Millage, who works at Neo Computers’ Davenport branch. “I’m glad it turned out the way it did.”

The Neo Computers Iowa City owner could not be reached for comment.

Billy Hoffman, a current employee, said workers usually see file names if a computer is brought in for data recovery. In some cases, they open “one or two” files to make sure the material has been retrieved.

Hoffman, who was hired a few months after the incident, remembers law enforcement calling the business to coordinate investigations. Iowa City police arrested Weinberg on April 17, 2008, after viewing the files from Neo Computers and searching Weinberg’s home.

Weinberg was charged at the time with sexual exploitation of a minor, an aggravated misdemeanor. In October 2008, the case reached the federal courts. Iowa City police Sgt. Troy Kelsay had said Weinberg’s position in the community prompted officials to act quickly.

Weinberg was a “well-respected” clinical psychologist who ran a private practice in downtown Iowa City. News of his crime unnerved the Unitarian Universalist Society, 10 S. Gilbert St., where Weinberg was an active participant.

Some feel sympathetic. Those who do recall Weinberg as an artist.

“He was a poet and a wonderful musician,” said Cliff Missen, an associate director in the UI School of Library and Information Science.

The two have been friends for 15 years and played in impromptu bands together. Missen, a computer expert, had mixed feelings about the situation.

“Before I learned about Howard’s chronicle, he was a good friend and a stellar person,” he said. “He is still a good friend and stellar person — with a problem.”

The volume and the nature of the material could factor into Weinberg’s sentence; one image showed a naked child, face down, tied with a rope. Some of the subjects are part of the Child Victim Identification Program database, according to the plea deal.

“I do not think a lot of the public appreciate the magnitude and breadth of his collection,” Kelsay said.

Regardless of the specific sentence, Kelsay said Weinberg will serve time in a federal prison. With the plea agreement, Weinberg faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and possibly a $250,000 fine.

Weinberg waived his right to appeal his conviction. Leon Spies, his lawyer, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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