TRENTON - A North Jersey assemblyman who resigned after allegations that he viewed child pornography on his state-issued computer has been indicted by a grand jury.
The four counts announced yesterday against Neil Cohen, 57, include possessing, reproducing and distributing the illegal images. He also faces an official misconduct charge.
"We charge that Mr. Cohen used the computer equipment in his taxpayer-funded legislative office to view child pornography, printing out copies that were accessible to others in the office," Attorney General Anne Milgram said. "Possession and distribution of child pornography are not victimless crimes. These are crimes against young children who are sexually exploited."
As a Democratic lawmaker from Roselle, Cohen fought child porn. In 2002, he sponsored a measure that created a public hotline for reporting computer crimes such as child pornography.
He also cosponsored a law that retroactively removed immunity from churches, schools and charities that had negligently hired those who sexually abused children.
"Public officials should be protecting children, so these allegations are distressing and appalling," Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. (D., Camden) said in a statement after Milgram announced the indictment.
If convicted of the most serious counts, Cohen faces more than a decade in prison and $150,000 in fines. He would have to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law if convicted of reproducing or distributing pornographic images.
Cohen will be issued a summons to surrender in two to four weeks.
Milgram's office began the investigation after two lawmakers who shared a Union Township office with Cohen told authorities that a staffer had found a printout of a nude adolescent girl.
Cohen is accused of having, on his computer, photographs of underage girls performing or simulating sex acts. He allegedly reproduced the images and left copies in a printer at the 20th District office.
Milgram would not specify how many images were found, saying only that there were "more than one."
Days after news of the investigation broke in July, Cohen resigned and checked himself into a psychiatric hospital.
He has not spoken publicly about the allegations. He could not be reached for comment yesterday; his cell phone would not accept a message. His lawyer, Daniel McCarthy of Cranford, did not return a telephone message.