73-Year-Old Man Found Guilty Of Child Porn

Robert Flibotte convicted on 10 counts

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After a week of testimony that exposed the secrets of a once prominent community leader, it took jurors less than a day to find Robert Thomas Flibotte, 73, guilty on 10 counts of possessing child pornography.

The terrible fall of one of Rim Country’s most influential Realtors played out before a courtroom packed with supporters, listening in dismay to the inexorable testimony of computer experts who detailed thousands of explicit sexual images and videos of children, some as young as 3.

Flibotte now faces 10 to 24 years in prison on each of the nine counts, with a possible 3 to 12.5 years more for an additional count.

During closing arguments, prosecutors painted Flibotte as a “collector” of child pornography, housing images and videos of children on both his home and work computers.

However, Flibotte’s attorneys maintained his innocence to the bitter end, blaming a virus, the computer technicians who turned him in and even a dark political conspiracy involving former Payson mayor Bob Edwards.

Witness testimony created a picture of Flibotte’s secret life in his home overlooking the Payson Golf Course and Green Valley Park, surrounded by his wife’s crafting supplies and photographs of his family.

“From all outside appearances, he appeared to be a normal man, however, he was a collector of child pornography,” said Gila County Attorney Ramai Alvarez.

From floppy disks to flash drives, documents detailing how to find and hide child porn and years of Internet searches, Flibotte was an avid viewer of child porn, prosecutors said.

Payson Police Det. Matt VanCamp said he found thousands of images or videos, some duplicates, on various media in Flibotte’s home and work offices. However, due to court protocol, prosecutors introduced only 15 photos into evidence, due to the work it took to establish the history of each image. Even then, the judge threw out five of the images because they were in an “unallocated” portion of a hard drive, apparently after having been deleted.

In the end, the jury’s verdict rested on just 10 images prosecutors said they found on Flibotte’s hard drive and various zip drives.

His team of defense attorneys said Flibotte was a family man who was the victim of computer viruses taking over his computers.

This defense wasn’t enough, however, to convince a jury of nine men and three women.

Prosecutors laid out a timeline of Flibotte’s viewing habits stretching back to December 2002 and continuing until days before his arrest in December of 2009.

On his work computer at a local real estate office, a computer investigator pieced together Internet history that included visiting Web sites discussing child molestation.

On Sept. 14, 2003, Flibotte conducted a “vanity search.”

“That was when somebody looks up themselves on the Internet to see where they might be mentioned,” Alvarez said.

At 1:48 p.m., “Who is Robert T Flibotte” was typed into the Google search engine. Six minutes later, “Where is Robert T Flibotte” and at 1:58 p.m., “Where are nude children?” That led to a 25-minute succession of searches on various child pornography sites.

This search was done before Flibotte contacted Computer Problem Specialists, a local computer repair shop. Prosecutors argued that this disproved the defense’s suggestion that computer technicians could have planted the searches or photographs.

It wasn’t until early 2009 that a computer technician first discovered child pornography on Flibotte’s home computer in a folder titled “young.”

At the time, the technician copied the images onto his personal flash drive and notified his supervisor, Daniel Taft, who “didn’t believe him initially,” Alvarez said.

Three or four months later, the computer technician returned to Flibotte’s home to do more work on the computer, only to find more files of child pornography from a subscription service. Again, the technician copied the files onto his flash drive and notified Taft.

Finally, on Oct. 2, 2009, Flibotte called Computer Problem Specialists once again because of new viruses on his computer. This time, the technicians went to Flibotte’s home to work on the computer.

The technician testified that Flibotte’s computer was running slowly. Suspecting spyware as the problem, the technicians took the computer back to the shop to work on it.

At the shop, Taft set a camera up to record their work, including where they went in the computer and what they found.

After searching through the computer for viruses, Taft discovered several “concerning” images, so he shut down the computer and called police.

But before Taft called police, he called former mayor Bob Edwards for advice.

Edwards reportedly told Taft to call police.

Defense attorney Michael Bernays argued that Flibotte might have been set up because he was pro-growth and Edwards ran and lost on a campaign against growth and that Flibotte and Edwards were “political enemies.”

Bernays said that police failed to look into the relationship and failed to interview any of Flibotte’s family or friends.

However, just days after Taft called police, Det. VanCamp and Payson Police Chief Don Engler went to Flibotte’s home with a search warrant.

During a search of an office Flibotte shared with his wife, VanCamp found child pornography on floppy disks and flash drives.

In a tall, unlocked filing cabinet, VanCamp found an envelope with several flash drives, some with child porn on them. In the same area as the envelope, was an article titled “How to hide child porn on a computer.” Among the tips, the document suggested keeping images on a flash drive, not a computer.

Another document located nearby was a print out of a March 7, 2009 e-mail with Flibotte’s name at the top.

The e-mail discussed how to find images of little girls and another e-mail instructed how to get into an online porn group.

Opposite the filing cabinet, a row of packed bookshelves held a Christmas coffee mug. In that mug, VanCamp found more flash drives, again with more child porn.

Bernays said it is absurd to think Flibotte would store child pornography in an open office, especially one that didn’t even have a lockable door.

“There is in fact ... a doorway into a bedroom that has a curtain, not a door, not a lock, a curtain so the state wants you to believe nonetheless that Mr. Flibotte uses this den of iniquity to collect his child pornography,” Bernays said. “It is really easy for the state to stand up here and say Robert Flibotte is a collector of child pornography, but what evidence have they shown that Bob Flibotte is a collector of child pornography?”

Bernays believes Computer Problem Specialists may have put images on Flibotte’s home computer.

But that doesn’t explain how porn ended up on Flibotte’s work computer, which the computer techs never had access to. Nor does it explain how Internet searches for child porn were found well before Flibotte knew Taft, Alvarez said.

When VanCamp spoke with Flibotte after searching his home, Flibotte maintained that pictures of child porn started popping up on his computer after he had searched for Ariel from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

A forensic computer examiner analyzed Flibotte’s Internet searches and concluded that the Realtor did search for Ariel, but also noted that the computer showed the use of a variety of other search terms associated with child porn before and afterward.

Bernays argued that police failed to actually visit any of these Web sites and confirm they were child porn sites, they merely went off their names.

Beyond Internet searches, investigators discovered downloaded images of child porn on both Flibotte’s home and work computers.

Six images were found on the flash drive in the Christmas mug, all stored on Aug. 11, 2008.

Another photo came from a subscription newsgroup. Photos from this site are viewable only if users have specific software, which Flibotte had on his computer.

Another photo was found on a flash drive in the filing cabinet as well as on Flibotte’s computer.

Two videos were found on other flash drives, one titled “babysitter abuse” featuring a 3-year-old girl.

A doctor examined all of the evidence and concluded all depicted children 15 years or younger.

Bernays admitted investigators did find child porn in Flibotte’s home and office, but insisted the prosecution never proved Flibotte is the one who put it there.

A search of Flibotte’s wife’s laptop revealed no child porn or related searches.

Bernays said it was possible Flibotte got flash drives mixed up with those of other Realtors.

“You can draw two conclusions — one, the defendant is the most unlucky man in the world, or he is guilty of possessing child pornography,” Alvarez said.

“Mr. Bernays mentioned that those images are ones that you

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