Former Children’s Museum director Robert Eckert pleads guilty

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Robert Eckert, pictured speaking in 2014 at a Groundhog Day event.

A 56-year-old man from West Hartford, Connecticut and former executive director of the Lutz Children’s Museum pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to a child pornography case, stemming from his soliciting, receiving and distributing images and videos online, the Department of Justice announced.

Federal Court records show that the case against Robert Eckert began with a sealed indictment and arrest in April 2021. Since unsealed, the indictment alleged that Eckert, “On or about September 25, 2019, 2020 […] knowingly distributed a visual representation of child pornography […] each of which contained a visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit behavior.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut was more specific on how Eckert admittedly obtained and distributed the child sexual abuse images. Prosecutors also revealed the number of images and videos found in his possession.

“According to court documents and statements made in court, Eckert used multiple internet platforms, including MeWe and Kik, to solicit, receive and distribute child sexual abuse images and to communicate with others at the subject of the distribution of child pornography. He accessed online platforms on his phone, at his residence and at the Lutz Children’s Museum in Manchester where he was employed as an executive director,’ said one The DOJ press release said, reflecting the language of the plea agreement in the case. “Between September 2019 and May 2020, Eckert possessed 1,837 image files and 73 videos depicting child sexual abuse, including abuse of prepubescent minors.”

According to the plea agreement, Eckert stipulated that the defendant “distribute the images in exchange for valuable consideration, including receipt of child pornography and access to sexually explicit groups.”

“At the time of each distribution, the defendant knew the items were child pornography,” the documents say.

The Lutz Children’s Museum, located in Manchester, Connecticut, describe its mission statement is to provide a “multi-faceted museum for children to explore culture, history and natural science through internal and external exhibits, programs and experiences”.

“The Lutz Children’s Museum was founded by the PTA in 1953 and named in his honor,” the website states. “To this day, the museum provides children with educational and cultural opportunities they might not otherwise have and provides teachers with an additional source of enrichment and resources.”

Video from several years ago which still appears online shows Eckert introducing himself to a room full of kids as the executive director at the start of a Groundhog Day event.

He called the children’s museum his “favorite subject”.

Eckert changed his plea Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill’s courtroom to plead guilty to the distribution of child pornography.

Sentencing was set for November 28.

Eckert, for his part, asked the court on Aug. 31 for permission to travel and see family members, knowing that regardless of his sentence, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison. The maximum potential sentence is 20 years behind bars.

“The defendant has been released on bail since April 2021, under house arrest. He wears an ankle monitor. He did not travel out of state during his release, except for frequent trips to Massachusetts on his confirmed employment. As stated in the probation report this week, Mr. Eckert complied with the conditions,” the motion reads. “The defendant has a plea change scheduled for the afternoon of September 1, 2022. It is expected that at this hearing he will change his plea to one count carrying a mandatory minimum penalty of five If such a plea is entered, it is certain that Mr. Eckert will be incarcerated for a long time after conviction.

Eckert specifically requested that he be able to travel to Florida to attend a memorial service with his siblings on a boat for his father, who died two years ago.

The motion further stated that this could also be the last time before going to prison that Eckert will be able to see a sibling with “health issues”. Eckert also requested permission to visit his mother at a Pennsylvania nursing facility with his siblings.

Records show the judge partially granted Eckert’s request to travel.

“Defendant may travel to Florida as described in the motion,” a minute says.

Law&Crime has reached out to Eckert’s attorney for comment.

Read the indictment and plea agreement below:

[Image via Lutz Children’s Museum/ YouTube screengrab]

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