A former Ladysmith School District teacher was charged last week in federal court with producing child pornography.
A complaint was filed Thursday, Aug. 26, in U.S. District Court in Madison, charging McKenzie W. Johnson, 34, of Ladysmith, with producing child pornography. The 5-page complaint alleges Johnson produced the child pornography on Jan. 13. At the time, Johnson was a teacher at the Ladysmith High School. The offense alleged in the complaint does not involve a victim from Wisconsin.
Johnson was arrested on school grounds on Tuesday, Aug. 24, and held in the Rusk County Jail. He resigned his teaching position the same day.
Johnson was hired as a business education teacher by the district in August 2020.
“While a few staff members witnessed the arrest, there were no students in the building at the time,” School District Administrator Laura Stunkel said in a statement to school parents on the date Johnson was taken into custody.
The complaint alleges Johnson knowingly and intentionally used a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct. The visual depiction was described in the complaint as “an image with a file name that ends in 1385.jpg.”
This complaint is based on the affidavit of Wade Beardsley, a Special Agent with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation. Beardsley is currently assigned to the Wisconsin Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Taskforce, whose primary responsibility is the investigation of sexual crimes committed against children through the use of a computer and the Internet.
According to the complaint, on March 30, Fontana, Calif., police officer Mavil Padilla spoke to a woman in Fontana who reported that she caught her 13-year-old daughter having an on-line conversation with a man.
Upon going through the minor’s laptop, the parent observed an email conversation between her daughter and a subject who identified himself as “Sam Schumaker.”
Schumaker was later identified as McKenzie Johnson.
According to the complaint, Padilla spoke to the minor who told him she met Johnson on Omegle.com, a free online chat website that allows users to socialize with others without the need to register. She had communicated with him for about two to three months using her school laptop. The girl stated she told Johnson that she was 13-years-old and reported within two to three weeks of meeting, she and Johnson transitioned to Zoom and email. Within three weeks of video chatting, Johnson asked the girl if he could see her breasts, and if she would dance for him. The girl reported she took off her shirt and danced for Johnson two or three times. She also reported that Johnson exposed himself to her.
Law enforcement determined the subscriber of IP address registered to “Schumaker” at the time he was communicating with the girl was McKenzie Johnson.
Beardsley participated in the execution of a search warrant on Tuesday, Aug. 24, at that address.
According to the complaint, Johnson was interviewed the same morning and admitted he had created the alias of “Sam Schumaker” and he had been communicating with he girl. He said he initially thought she was a college student but learned that she was 14. After learning that, he continued communicating with her. He further said he would have Zoom sessions with the girl where they would both masturbate and the girl’s privates were exposed to the camera. He stated that he recorded some of these Zoom sessions with his iPad, and there would be “lots” of images and videos he captured of the girl over Zoom.
Among the items seized from Johnson’ s home was an Apple iPad.
Beardsley reviewed an image made from this iPad. On it, he found an image ending in 1385.JPG that was created by the iPad on Jan. 13, 2021. The image depicts a screen-capture of an Omegle video-chat. The area to the left on the image shows a nude black female lying on her back and exposing herself. A backpack can be seen to the right of the child.
Beardsley sent a heavily redacted version of the image to the girl’s mother, who identified the setting as being the girl’s bedroom and the backpack as belonging to the girl.
Last Thursday, a telephonic status conference was held in federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen L. Crocker.
Johnson did not participate but was represented by his attorney, Joseph Bugni.
The government was represented by Elizabeth Altman.
Pretrial Services was represented by USPO Kristin Kiel.
Bugni reported he has received a copy of the complaint and has spoken to his client, who was to be transported to Madison on Friday, Aug. 27.
Johnson waived his right to an in-person initial appearance and to a preliminary examination.
The court granted the government’s currently uncontested motion to detain Johnson while reserving to him the right to a substantive detention hearing on demand.
The government intends to present this case to the grand jury for indictment on Wednesday, Sept. 1.
At this point, Johnson intends to waive his appearance at his subsequent arraignment.
Upon receipt of a waiver, the court will enter a not guilty plea on Johnson’s behalf to any charges returned against him.
Counsel for both sides reported they do not want a scheduling or discovery conference set. Instead they will report back to the court after they have had a chance to confer about what happens next. The parties had no other matters to bring to the court’s attention.
Stunkel added the safety and security of students is the top priority.
“Our Safety Crisis Team is meeting now to determine how we can best support our students and staff, as needed. If your child needs any extra support, please know that our school counselors are always available,” Stunkel said.
The investigation is being led by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force at DOJ, assisted by Ladysmith Police Department, Rusk County Sheriff’s Office, Clark County Sheriff’s Office the Fontana Police Department in California, the Office of School Safety and Ladysmith School District.
Anyone with information that might assist in this investigation can call the Ladysmith Police Department at (715) 532-2186.