ST. ALBANS CITY — A Swanton man has been accused of sharing sexually explicit images of children online.
Preston Apuan, 30, pleaded not guilty to four counts of promoting a recording of sexual conduct by a child during his arraignment Friday in Franklin County Superior Court. Judge Robert Mello struck a fifth count of recording of sexual conduct by a child after the defense questioned whether or not the file in question was a photo of an actual child or an animation.
Mello released Apuan on conditions including that he not have any contact or correspondence with minors age 16 or under, that he not access the internet except under supervision of his wife unless it is for a court hearing or medical appointment, that he not view or possess any sexually explicit images, and that he not access or loiter in places where children typically congregate.
Public defender Paul Groce questioned the need for a few of the conditions, stating that the alleged crime took place entirely online, and barring Apuan’s access to the internet would be too restrictive given how essential internet use has become in modern society.
Ultan Doyle, representing the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, agreed to make concessions regarding Apuan’s internet use, but stated the no-contact condition was necessary.
“The defendant has sought out files and images of children engaged in sexual misconduct and I think that condition is necessary to protect the public based on a perceived risk of harm to children,” Doyle said.
The Vermont Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force initiated an investigation early last year after the messaging application Discord tipped off authorities to five files of child pornography uploaded on Feb. 29, 2020, according to an affidavit filed in the case. In response to a subpoena from investigators surrounding the computer IP address that uploaded the files, Comcast identified the subscriber as living in Swanton.
Investigators further confirmed that Apuan and his wife live at the address provided Comcast, and had been living there since July 2015, according to court records. Neither Apuan nor his wife have any known criminal convictions.
Records from Google and Discord, obtained by investigators in March, showed a connection between Apuan and the email address associated with the Discord account that uploaded the images, according to the affidavit.
During an interview with police at his home on May 13, Apuan said he had a Discord account with the name “Sefyra,” which he said may have been hacked. Apuan also told police he had previously used a Discord account with the name Mika Sparkle, which had been shut down due to violation of terms of service, according to the affidavit.
Apuan initially denied possessing or distributing the images, but later “indicated that he did not produce the images and could not recall where he found them,” according to the affidavit. He later suggested someone may have sent them to him, according to court records.
State police found “multiple files” of sexually explicit images of children on Apuan’s cell phone, some of which were similar to four of the images that spurred the investigation, according to police.