LITTLE ROCK -- A former teacher's assistant at a now-defunct Little Rock private school has pleaded guilty to three federal counts of production of child pornography, described by authorities as "abominable crimes" and "unthinkable abuse" committed at Miss Selma's School.
Sentencing is pending for Augustus David "Gus" Shenker after his Tuesday guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky. The 22-year-old defendant faces at least 15 years in prison. He and the school's operators, one of whom is his grandmother, are also the subject of three civil lawsuits in Pulaski County Circuit Court brought by the families of his child victims, the youngest of whom to be abused by Shenker was 3.
Under the conditions of his plea agreement, negotiated by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristin Bryant and defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig, 20 other charges related to the production, possession and transportation of child pornography were dropped.
"This defendant violated the trust parents placed in him each day by placing their children in his care," acting U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ross said in a news release announcing Shenker's plea. "Using his position to exploit preschoolers is an unthinkable abuse, especially in their own school -- the very place we expect children to be protected."
Ross also commended the efforts of the FBI for tracking Shenker down, saying that he hoped the case would serve as a warning to others who would harm children.
Special Agent James A. Dawson, who leads the FBI in Little Rock, said that Shenker's conviction "demonstrates the unwavering dedication and adamant determination of the investigators who serve on our Violent Crime squad."
"FBI agents, professional support staff, and local law enforcement partners worked tirelessly to uncover Mr. Shenker's abominable crimes while ensuring his victims and their families received assistance," Dawson said in the news release.
Court filings show the investigation into Shenker began on his 21st birthday in May 2021 when Little Rock detective Amber Kalmer, a task force officer for the FBI, received information from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children based on a report from Dropbox, an internet file-hosting service, about seven video files apparently uploaded to the service a month earlier.
Kalmer recognized the videos as child pornography, describing two of them in court files. One was about seven minutes long and showed a prepubescent girlin a bed with pink and yellow zebra stripes engaging in a sex act.
The second recording is about 6½ minutes and depicts another prepubescent girl wearing a one-piece gymnastics leotard and engaging in a sex act.
Kalmer further discovered that the missing children center had received earlier reports that appeared related, one in February 2015 from Google and the second in May 2016 from software maker Adobe, which produces the Photoshop photo-manipulation program.
In the Google report, the detective found seven pornographic photos of girls between the ages of 6 and 9, while the Adobe report involved the distribution of 27 illegal images showing photographs of girls 8 to 10 years old playing and smiling that had been altered by Photoshop so that they appeared to be sexually interacting with a man.
Investigators were able to trace the images to the internet account of Shenker's mother, Shannon Shenker, at the family's Pinnacle Pointe home. Police had suspected Augustus Shenker worked at a school based on findings from Facebook, but after putting him under surveillance confirmed he was working at Miss Selma's School, 7814 T St. The school, one of the city's oldest private schools, shut down after Shenker's arrest.
About 12 days after receiving the initial information about Shenker, investigators raided the family home, then arrested him at the school.
Questioned by FBI agents, Shenker said he had a problem with child pornography between 2014 and 2016, but had overcome it. Asked about his Dropbox account, Shenker said he had not used it in a long time and that it had been hacked. He denied having inappropriate contact with the students, telling the agents that he loved working at the school for the past four years.
The search of his home turned up a box of letters from students at the school, a photograph of a girl 8 to 10 years old wearing a T-shirt pulled down over her pelvis and a notebook that contained writing about two specific girls.
Investigators seized Shenker's iPhone, which had a 3½-minute video recorded at the school on April 22, 2021, showing a sleeping girl being groped by a man. All that can be seen of the man is his jeans and white shoes with a colored trim around the bottom. The background of the video shows purple or blue curtains with apples and leaves bordering the room.
A 4½-minute video recorded the next day shows a sleeping girl being fondled by a man.
In the background, a piece of paper on the wall can be seen with the numbers 1, 2 and 7 depicted with apples for learning numbers.
Aside from Shenker, defendants in the civil suits, filed on behalf of three victims, two girls and a boy, are Miss Selma's Schools Inc.; Miss Selma's Property LLC; his grandmother, Alana Reed, the school's former vice principal; and school owner Robin Ratley Smith, whose mother, Selma Ratley, founded the school in 1956. They have all denied wrongdoing.