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Former Newton teacher pleads guilty to federal child porn charges

A former Newton teacher faces at least 20 years in prison after pleading guilty Wednesday to federal charges that he participated in an online child pornography bulletin board, his lawyer said.

David Ettlinger, 35, pleaded guilty in Shreveport, La., to ­engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, said his lawyer, ­Jennifer Culotta. He is one of more than 40 people who have been convicted since February 2011 for their activities on Dreamboard, according to federal prosecutors.

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Ettlinger’s family was not present when he appeared in the courtroom, his lawyer said. The former elementary school teacher will be sentenced on Nov. 29, Culotta said, and he faces from 20 years to life in prison.

“Obviously, my client is wanting to put this behind him and move forward, so the healing process can begin for everybody,” Culotta said.

Federal prosecutors did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

After his sentencing, ­Ettlinger will return to Massachusetts, where he will face state charges, said Jake Wark, a spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney’s office.

Prosecutors in Massachusetts allege that Ettlinger indecently assaulted three girls from the Boston metropolitan area and taped the incidents. None of the girls were his students. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Ettlinger’s guilty plea in federal court “is heartening in ­regard to the state case,” Wark said.

Ettlinger was among dozens of people caught up in an international investigation of Dreamboard, a site where participants had to post images to remain members. His arrest in January shocked Newton, where he was a popular teacher at Underwood Elementary School.

After his arrest, parents questioned the district’s handling of previous complaints against Ettlinger, and in recent months the Newton School Committee has adopted tighter screenings of school district employees, including a check against a sex-offender database.

According to federal court documents, Ettlinger made 105 posts on Dreamboard between June 2009 and August 2010 and frequently visited a section for videos of children under 13. His frequent participation earned him “VIP” status on Dreamboard.

Federal authorities launched the investigation into Dreamboard in 2009. They describe it as a message board that promoted child pornography with about 600 members worldwide. Participants moved higher up in the membership hierarchy based on the number and frequency of their posts.

Seventy-two people have been charged with participating in Dreamboard, and 13 still remain at large and are only known by their screen-names, according to a press release from the US attorney’s office in Louisiana.

Culotta said she hopes that Ettlinger’s willingness to take responsibility for his actions and quickly plead guilty will help lessen his sentence.

Deirdre Fernandes can be
reached at deirdre.fernandes@
globe.com.
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