Niskayuna thumb drive investigation results in felony plea

Photo by Peter Barber. Niskayuna High School on Balltown Road.Photo by Peter Barber. Niskayuna High School on Balltown Road.

— One of two former Niskayuna High School students arrested in connection with images on a thumb drive found hidden inside a book at the school last year admitted Thursday to an unrelated felony that sprang from the initial case.

Angelo Cavallaro, now 18, pleaded guilty to one count of possession of a sexual performance by a child.

Prosecutors accused him of possessing two images of child pornography on his personal computer last summer. The images, both downloaded from the internet, are unrelated to the thumb drive found at school but investigators found them during their investigation of the thumb drive.

Cavallaro is to receive 10 years’ probation and possible youthful offender status. Prosecutor John Carson cited Cavallaro’s age at the time — 17 — and the limited number of images as reasons for offering the plea deal.

Police discovered the child pornography images on Cavallaro’s computer in June 2015 while investigating the thumb drive discovered hidden inside a book at the Niskayuna High School library.

Officials said images and videos on the drive, along with a list of female student names, raised suspicions at least one male student had secretly filmed other students.

According to paperwork filed earlier in Cavallaro’s felony case, police zeroed in another student, Christopher Khan. Khan allegedly admitted that he took pictures and videos of Niskayuna High School students without their knowledge or consent.

The allegations have led to plans by the Niskayuna Central School District to add a prohibition on “upskirting” and “voyeurism” to its code of conduct, district officials recently said.

Police originally charged Khan with felony attempted unlawful surveillance and misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child. The status of those charges could not be determined.

Police said Khan admitted last year to owning the thumb drive and said he sold the surreptitiously taken pictures to Cavallaro.

Police soon questioned Cavallaro and he allegedly admitted to paying Khan for a picture or video, but said he did it once, not multiple times.

Police said Cavallaro denied knowledge of the thumb drive but told investigators that he had seen child pornography on the internet. He didn’t believe he had any on his computer. The charges filed alleged that he possessed pornographic images of children on his laptop, which was recovered from his Van Vranken Avenue home.

Carson said state police recognized Cavallaro’s two illegal images as being available online. The images have no local connection.

In court Thursday, Judge Matthew Sypniewski questioned Carson about the reasons for the offer before deciding whether to approve.

Carson noted Cavallaro’s age, that there were only two images, and their contents. Sypniewski ultimately decided to approve the deal.

In court Thursday, attorneys only alluded to the thumb drive that sparked the investigation into Cavallaro. Defense attorney James Knox made clear, on the record, that the plea covers any other charges.

Carson confirmed that it included “his behavior as a student at Niskayuna High School.”

Knox couldn’t be reached for comment later.

Left open is whether Cavallaro will receive youthful offender status, which would seal his record and mean he would not have to register as a sex offender. His probation still would have sex offender restrictions.

If Sypniewski decides against youthful offender status, Cavallaro would have the option to take back his plea.

The plea came on the same morning as another, unrelated, child pornography possession plea. Jason Brann, 35, of Glenville, pleaded guilty to one count of possession of a sexual performance of a child.

Brann is to receive a sentence of as much as 16 months to four years in prison, or as little as six months in jail, plus 10 years’ probation. He had faced a 27-count indictment. He will also have to register as a sex offender.

Carson said later prosecutors pressed for jail time in Brann’s case due to his age, the number of images he possessed and the fact that he had both still and video images.

Reach Gazette reporter Steven Cook at 395-3122, or @ByStevenCook on Twitter.