HARRISBURG — Gov. Wolf on Wednesday called for the resignation of a state senator from Lebanon County who has been arrested and charged with child pornography and other charges involving images found on his cell phone.
Sen. Mike Folmer, a Republican who played a key role in legalizing medical marijuana in the commonwealth, was charged Tuesday with possession of child pornography and criminal use of a communication facility, according to Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office. Both are felonies.
“This defendant serves as a state senator and was entrusted to honor and represent his community in the Pennsylvania Capitol. ... I will continue to say it — no one is above the law — no matter what position of power they hold," Shapiro said in a statement. "I will continue to work to protect children and hold those who abuse them accountable.”
Wolf, in a statement, called for Folmer to "immediately resign.“
“We elect leaders to serve as a voice for those who do not have the ability to advocate for their own needs, demanding that they will protect our children, families, and communities,” Wolf said. "The charges against Senator Folmer are disgusting and beyond comprehension, and show he has taken advantage of the trust and privilege afforded by the people of Pennsylvania."
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny) echoed the sentiment, calling the charges against Folmer “deeply disturbing.”
Neither Folmer, 63, who was reelected to a fourth term last November, nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.
In a brief statement late Tuesday, the Senate’s two top leaders said they were stripping Folmer of his chairmanship of a key Senate committee and signaled they would be taking “further action.”
“We are shocked to learn tonight of the allegations made against Sen. Folmer,” Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) wrote in a joint statement. “We will fully cooperate with law enforcement regarding this deeply disturbing matter.”
According to court papers provided by the Attorney General’s office, officials at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received a complaint in February of this year from Tumblr, a social media website, that an image containing child pornography had been uploaded to its site.
The image, according to court papers, involved a “very young female child," and had been uploaded in late 2017. It is not clear why it took a year for it to be flagged.
The matter was referred to the Attorney General’s office, where agents had to chart a painstaking route to trace the image to the email address associated with Folmer’s Tumblr account, and later, the IP address associated with it. Authorities executed a search warrant at Folmer’s house in Lebanon on Tuesday and discovered two other child pornography images on the senator’s phone.
Folmer told law enforcement officers that he had been dealing with personal problems and had received child pornography through his Tumblr blog, according to charging documents.
Jennifer Storm, the state’s victim advocate, said Wednesday that she was “deeply alarmed” by Folmer’s statement to agents: “As though viewing crimes against children is now just an acceptable coping mechanism to having a bad day and going through a rough period?”
Folmer, who is married, has two children and seven grandchildren, was one of two senators who led the charge in Pennsylvania to legalize medical marijuana, a bill that initially faced steep opposition in the legislature. His efforts, along with the efforts of medical cannabis advocates, have been credited with the bill becoming law in 2016.
He was elected in 2006, during a turbulent time in Pennsylvania politics. At the time, incumbent legislators were facing scrutiny for having voted a year earlier to give themselves a pay raise. The vote to approve the pay hike, which landed in the middle of the night, sparked a public outcry and led to a wave of new legislators.
Folmer was among them, beating out then-Senate Majority Leader David “Chip” Brightbill, a veteran lawmaker. The district also includes slices of York and Dauphin Counties.
In the Senate, Folmer is considered one of the chamber’s most conservative members. Last year, during a heated debate in the Capitol, he opposed legislation to allow a two-year reprieve in the statute of limitations for victims of decades-old child sexual abuse to sue their abusers.
On his official website, he touts his “Promise to Pennsylvania,” which includes fiscal accountability in the state budget.