WEST PALM BEACH -- A 62-year-old former South Florida Water Management District engineer who once showed off his computer skills when he created an underwater vehicle later used to explore the sunken Titanic will be sentenced to federal prison Thursday morning for downloading child pornography images and videos.
Dr. William Kenneth Stewart pleaded guilty to receiving child pornography earlier this year. His attorney Dean Lawrence Willbur Jr., of Palm Beach Gardens, has said that Stewart should receive the minimum required prison term of five years as his family thinks Stewart, according to court documents, delved into child pornography as a way to “recapture his youth.”
Willbur Jr. declined to comment Wednesday morning.
Boynton Beach Police Detective Charles Ramos began his investigation into Stewart last year when he came across Stewart’s IP address. Ramos downloaded four videos from Stewart’s IP address, which involved girls under the age of 18 in compromising positions.
When detectives executed a search warrant at Stewart’s suburban West Palm Beach apartment, Stewart was in the living room and his two computers were streaming videos of child pornography, according to a federal criminal complaint filed last year. He was arrested in the apartment Sept. 21.
He later pleaded guilty in March to receiving child pornography. The U.S. state attorney agreed, as part of the plea agreement, to dropping the charge of distributing the child porn.
Stewart’s attorney, in a sentencing argument, said his client knows what he did was wrong:
“I know and admit that such conduct was illegal and more importantly wrong … I accept responsibility for my actions and understand that my conduct was unacceptable. I hope that some day the people that I have affected, along with my family, my friends, and those in law enforcement who have been required to prosecute me can forgive me,” Stewart said in court documents.
Willbur Jr. filed an 11-page resume for Stewart as part of his sentencing argument.
Most recently, Stewart, a divorced father of a 17-year-old girl, worked with the South Florida Water Management District for more than a decade as a chief scientist and chief consulting engineer. During that time he also headed his own business called Virtual Marine Associates.
Stewart received his bachelors of science degree with honors from Florida Atlantic University. He went on to receive his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked for the well-renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
He has more than 25 years of experience in science, engineering research and development programs. He holds more than 40 years experience in computer hardware/software architectures, networking, communications, and information management, according to his resume.
Stewart was working as a graduate assistant at Woods Hole when he managed a project developing a remote underwater vehicle. The vehicle had the ability to reach 20,000 feet below the ocean’s surface and was used as the prototype for the ROV used to explore the Titanic.
Stewart explored the Titanic while on the ROV 13,000 feet below sea level.
In 1995 Stewart was awarded the Men of Achievement by Biographee and the Who’s Who in Science and Engineering. He received eight more awards in the years prior to that.
He served in the U.S. Navy Construction Batallions from 1969 to 1972.
Stewart’s family, including his daughter, ex-wife, mother and siblings, came to his defense by writing letters to the judge.
“As embarrassed as he was he called me immediately to ensure me that the porn was just fantasy … That is not to say that it is a victimless crime-we all recognize that-just that he did not directly hurt anyone,” Stewart’s ex-wife Victoria Tauxe said.
In an effort to convince the judge to sentence Stewart to a more lengthy prison term, family members of the girls in the pornographic videos wrote letters defending the girls who are still in those situations.
“Thank God my daughter was rescued. But the silent images of the unrescued children should shout just as loudly the real horror of this crime,” one mother wrote. “My daughter is a real person. She was horribly victimized to provide this source of ‘entertainment.’ She is exploited every time an image of her suffering is copied, traded or sold.”
The mother wrote to the judge that her daughter’s request of the judge is, “Please, don’t let them pretend no-one’s getting hurt,” documents say.