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Child porn case at school stuns parents

February 8, 2012 3:21:01 PM PST
Parents at a Brooklyn elementary school where a teacher's aide has been accused of child pornography struggled Wednesday to square the lurid accusations with the caring educator they thought they knew.

FBI agents arrested Taleek Brooks on Monday after investigators found videos of the 40-year-old sexually exploiting children on a computer seized from his home, authorities said.

A criminal complaint mentioned two alleged victims, both believed to be current or former students at Public School 243, also known as the Weeksville School, where Brooks had worked since 1995.

Parents bringing their children to school Wednesday said they were shocked by the allegations.

"He seemed nice. He seemed genuine," said Thea Williams, who dropped her 7-year-old daughter off.

Williams also has a 12-year-old son who graduated from the school, and after she learned of Brooks' arrest she asked both children if they had ever been alone with the aide. They said no.

Vickie Chiaramonte said Brooks worked with her 9-year-old grandson on resolving conflicts with other children.

"He always showed him positive ways to solve problems," said Chiaramonte, who also has a 10-year-old daughter at the school. "He was very well-spoken. He always appeared to be very concerned about the children's well-being."

Another grandmother who cares for her 6-year-old grandson, Charmaine Maxwell, called the charges against Brooks "disgusting" and added, "everyone believed he was such a nice person."

The school is in a beige brick building adorned with a cheerful mural. A review posted by the independent rating organization insideschools.org lauds the school's "tight-knit" staff but says students need a great deal of help academically and socially. Almost all of its students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and 20 percent are in special education.

In addition to serving as a teacher's aide, Brooks was a group leader at an after-school program in the same building.

He was first hit with child pornography charges a month ago. On Tuesday, a federal judge revoked his bail amid new allegations.

Prosecutors said evidence included videos of Brooks spanking one naked child and fondling another in a classroom. Previously, investigators had suspected him only of trading child pornography, not producing it.

Brooks' lawyer and relatives declined to comment.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott visited the school and met with about 20 parents Wednesday.

"Parents will be asking questions. They should be asking questions," he said afterward.

The Department of Education released a letter from Walcott telling P.S. 243 parents to call a confidential FBI hotline, 212-384-2700, with any information relevant to the investigation. The FBI said it has received additional information since the allegations against Brooks were made public Tuesday.

Walcott said the FBI "has also informed us that if they have reason to suspect that one of your children may have been victimized by this individual, they will reach out to you directly."

Asked about Brooks on Wednesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said with 125,000 teachers and other employees in the city's public school system there is bound to be "somebody doing despicable things, somebody doing stupid things, somebody that's not working hard."

"There's always going to be those things," Bloomberg said. "The important thing is that this person was identified, caught, and we'll use the full power of the law."

The mayor chose his words carefully: "I don't want to prejudice any investigation. But there are some sick people in the world, and you just have to learn to deal with them."

The Department of Education first hired Brooks for a summer job in 1991, when he was fingerprinted and passed a background check. He was given a full-time job as a teacher's aide in 1993.

He passed another background check when he was hired by the organization that runs the after-school program, the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club.

According to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday, an examination of a home computer and two external hard drives seized from Brooks uncovered a stash of self-produced child porn.

The videos included two taken in a school classroom, one of Brooks touching a child's genitals and another of him spanking a naked child, the complaint says. Investigators believe they were shot sometime between January 2008 and January 2011.

A previous complaint accused Brooks of sending pornographic photos and videos of children to an undercover agent he met online. The complaint says one of the images was of a man having sex with a boy who appeared to be about 10.

Following the exchange, FBI agents searched Brooks' home on Jan. 13. The complaint alleges that during the search, Brooks "admitted that he had been downloading and sharing child pornography for approximately seven years." He also "indicated that he had collected and saved over 1,000 digital files on his computer containing child pornography," the complaint adds.

If convicted of producing child porn, Brooks faces a minimum 15 years in prison.

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Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Samantha Gross contributed to this report.

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