UPDATE: Former New Found Glory Guitarist Steve Klein Convicted of Indecent Exposure
Musician Steve Klein, a former member of the pop-punk act New Found Glory, has been convicted of indecent exposure in a California child porn case. The final plea stemmed from seven charges of sex crimes against minors in which Klein found himself embroiled in 2014.
The guitarist and songwriter parted ways with the band back then, but the case itself had stalled for over six years. Last month, however, Klein reached an agreement in San Luis Obispo Superior Court to plead guilty to felony indecent exposure with the remaining charges dismissed, the San Luis Obispo Tribune reported. He'll have to register as a sex offender for at least 10 years.
In the plea deal, the charges dropped against the 41-year-old Klein included five felony counts of lewd acts on a child, one count of contact with intent to commit a sex offense and another of child pornography possession. The original allegations against Klein arose from sexual video chat room recordings involving underage girls found on a hard drive at the musician's home.
Those screenshot recordings were of two-way video calls. Explicit footage of Klein allegedly exposing himself on the video chat website Omegle was played at a hearing in 2014. At that time, an expert witness for the prosecution, Dr. Nisha Abdul Cader, testified that the two females on the other end of the call were likely between 9 and 16 years old based on their physical traits.
That same year, New Found Glory released a statement explaining their reaction to Klein's legal battles. "Steve made us aware of possible allegations that might be made against him," they said. "Not knowing all the details, we made the decision to part ways in order for him to deal with these personal issues." The band initially announced its split with Klein in December 2013.
Also in 2014, a legal representative for Klein, Debra White, remarked that "people are quick to assume that if a person is charged with a crime, they are also guilty as charged. … ALL charges against Steve are derived solely from online consensual video chats between Steve and some female strangers he met on an adult website. Steve believed the females were over the age of 18."
Klein won't serve any jail time as part of the plea, but he's been committed to two years of probation. If the musician completes probation for one year, however, the felony conviction will drop to a misdemeanor and the probationary period will end, Klein's attorney, Ilan Funke-Bilu, explained.
The guitarist lived in Atascadero, Calif., at the time the charges were brought against him. No physical contact occurred with the victims, prosecutors alleged, and they were never identified by investigators.
The ex-New Found Glory member played a large part in forming the Florida-based outfit's early sound. Along with singer Jordan Pundik, Klein wrote the bulk of the band's 1999 debut Nothing Gold Can Stay. Klein later produced other punk-minded acts such as Man Overboard.
Klein released the following statement regarding his case:
I have a lot to discuss, and I hope you take the time to read it all. But to address the biggest issue first:
I am not a pedophile.
I pleaded no contest to one charge of indecent exposure. This charge has nothing to do with children, minors, or anyone underage. It was added as part of the plea deal.
All original felony charges were dropped.
Yes, I have to register as a sex offender.
No, that does not mean I pleaded to any crime involving child pornography.
(For context, a person caught urinating on the street can be charged with indecent exposure and required to register as a sex offender.)
In 2013, I was charged with seven felonies. After eight long years with the San Luis Obispo court system, I have decided to accept a plea agreement with the Deputy District Attorney of SLO County.
With this plea agreement signed, I am now finally able to speak on my behalf regarding the details of my case and what I've lived through over these past several years.
On the advice of my attorney, my family, and my friends, I have reluctantly pleaded to one felony charge of indecent exposure in order to end this horrible chapter of my life. This charge is what's known as a "wobbler," meaning it will subsequently be downgraded to a misdemeanor after one year of probation is completed. Additionally, as part of this plea, I must register as a tier one sex offender. Under SB 384 in the State of California, tier one sex registry is for the lowest level sex offenses, including misdemeanor indecent exposure. In accordance with the law, I will temporarily be a registered sex offender, but I will not be listed under Megan's Law and will not have any significant restrictions placed on me.
I would like to stress that I was prepared from the beginning to fight these charges in trial. However, after eight long years of mental and emotional devastation, and hundreds of thousands of dollars already spent defending my innocence, my lawyer and I felt that agreeing to this deal was the best course of action in order to put this behind me without it taking a further toll on my mental and emotional health. The decision to plea to this felony charge instead of pushing forward to trial to fully clear my name was difficult, but in the end, the possibility of my case dragging on for an indefinite period of time was no longer worth keeping my life on hold.
What made this agreement palatable to me is that it doesn't pertain to child pornography or minors. A plea involving crimes of that nature would have been absolutely unacceptable to me, and that is why I have continued to fight to clear my name for so long.
Because this case has been ongoing, I have been unable to discuss the facts nor defend myself to the public beyond my initial statement made in 2014. I have had to remain silent as people made their own assumptions and judgments, while journalists released sensationalized stories lacking real insight. My silence only allowed the perpetuation of false information.
It has been difficult for me to remain silent regarding the circumstances leading up to this point, but now I want to set the record straight.
While away on tour I began using the website Omegle to have online sex with random, anonymous women who I believed were all over the age of 18. Omegle was an anonymous video chat website that required all users to verify their age on two separate screens. I justified this behavior to myself as a way of coping with my deteriorating marriage and the stress of being away from home without becoming physically or emotionally attached to anyone. At some point, I began recording these encounters to save for my own personal use. I later realized I was trying to compensate for the lack of physical connection in my real-life relationship. To be clear, I never shared these videos with anyone.
In order to explain how these videos led to me being charged with possession of child pornography, I need to go into more explicit detail regarding their content. The specific videos that were used as evidence in the preliminary hearing showed me exposing myself as well as naked female bodies from the neck down, some with only breasts exposed, some with only their pubic area exposed, and all without visible faces. Although every video was made using the over-18 website, the initial DA was able to justify these charges based off of a police report that arbitrarily assigned ages to these internet strangers. In addition to the police report, the DA obtained a pediatrician as an expert witness, who used an invalidated theory called the Tanner scale to judge the age of the females in some of the videos. It was the pediatrician's opinion, based on this scale, that some of the women were under the age of 18 due to secondary sex characteristics such as breast size and pubic hair, or lack thereof. This scale has been criticized in the past as it has led to false child pornography convictions, and has even been argued by Dr. Tanner himself that age classification using his scale misrepresents its intended use. The bottom line is that the ages that were stated in the police report, as well as during the preliminary hearing, are based solely on the questionable opinions of the pediatrician and the detective.
I believe the police report is biased, because during the discovery of evidence proceedings, my lawyer obtained emails between the detective and my ex-wife in which they have conversations about my case interspersed with friendly chit-chat about various topics, including photography advice, traveling and even details regarding other cases he was investigating. Additionally, there were emails missing from the conversation thread that had been deleted and therefore were not submitted into evidence. My lawyer questioned my ex regarding their unethical personal relationship and the deleted emails during the preliminary hearing, and she admitted on the stand that they had become friends, and stated that the emails were deleted because she didn't want her children to read them… the detective stated they had been deleted because "the investigation was over".
The circumstances surrounding how these videos were brought to light has a lot to do with the relationship my ex-wife and I had at the time.
From the start, our relationship was far from ideal. In my experience, being in a band that toured 10 months out the year was not conducive to a healthy relationship. Our partnership suffered as a result. In 2006, shortly after the birth of our first daughter, my then-girlfriend let me know she was unhappy living in Coral Springs, Florida, and wanted to be closer to her family in California. Not long after we moved across the country, she became pregnant with our second daughter. I felt increased pressure to step up and marry her for the sake of our children.
Eventually, I realized I wasn't in love with her. After 10 years of being together, I began to seek out emotional relationships with other women while on the road. I came to find out she was doing the same with other men. In fact, she was having an affair with a mutual friend's husband, which led to that couple's divorce. Despite our infidelities, we agreed to try and make our relationship work and sought marriage counseling.
In September 2012, my wife found the hard drive containing videos I recorded. Even though we were already in marriage counseling, she was looking for evidence of infidelity as was stated by her in an interview with the detective, in what I believe was an attempt to build a case for divorce against me. She took them to a divorce attorney, who referred her to a criminal defense attorney in SLO. He advised her to take these recordings to law enforcement. She waited a few days, then eventually called the SLO County Sheriff. A deputy and sex crimes investigator came to our home to interview her and confiscate my hard drive as evidence.
The videos on that hard drive are the sole basis for the charges against me.
I was in San Francisco producing a record while all of this was taking place. My wife contacted me to tell me she found these videos and changed our locks. She told me to not come home, and that she was filing for divorce. I was completely blindsided by this, as we had already discussed our infidelities and were currently in marriage counseling. She then obtained emergency custody of our daughters. As a result of this, I could only see them on certain days in public places?—?they couldn't come into my home or spend the night. I was devastated and desperate to see my daughters, and the only way my wife would allow any changes to this custody arraignment was for me to sign divorce papers, give her our house to raise our children, and obtain a psychiatric evaluation. I quickly agreed to all of these things in order to see my kids. Looking back now, this felt like blackmail. Interestingly, she wanted me to get a life insurance policy as part of the divorce, too—she knew I was about to be charged with these felonies, but I did not. Soon after I complied with her requests, I obtained joint custody of my children and was able to have them three days a week/overnights. This arrangement continued without incident for the next year. During that year, we had friendly contact through texts and emails with her even telling me at one point that she missed me.
One year later, in September 2013, with our divorce and custody agreement having already been finalized, my residence was raided by armed police officers as I was getting my girls ready for school. I had no idea what was happening, or that I was even being investigated. The behavior of some of these officers threw me off as they seemed more concerned with making small talk about what band I was in and what tours I've been on. My ex knew my home would be raided on this day while my children were there?—?in fact, she arrived on the scene five minutes later to retrieve them. This was traumatic for my daughters, and it has always been difficult for me to understand why she would allow our children to go through such an experience. As a result of the raid, the police turned over my laptop computer I used to make these videos to the FBI for detailed forensic analysis. The FBI found nothing in the way of supporting evidence to bolster the charges already against me. To reiterate: Nothing from this surprise raid was discovered to incriminate me.
At this point I knew I needed legal representation, and I was referred to a criminal defense attorney who happened to be the very same lawyer who advised my ex to take the hard drive to law enforcement—a huge conflict of interest. I didn't know this at the time, so I proceeded to hire him. He said he would speak with the DA, and he assured me he was qualified to handle my case. One month later, while I was on tour, I received a call from him that I was being charged. I explained I was about to leave for an Australian tour, so he spoke with the DA and it was agreed that I wouldn't be arraigned until after I returned home. My attorney then informed me that he would be removing himself from my case without giving me any reason, and tried to pawn me off to another attorney at his office. I decided to seek representation elsewhere. I later questioned this attorney about the conflict of interest, and he lied about ever having contact with my ex despite the fact that she named him during the preliminary hearing and soon after represented her new partner during an unrelated criminal case.
After learning of my charges, I immediately informed one of my band's two managers. My lawyer and my manager both advised me not to say anything to the band or other manager while on tour. On December 12, 2013, the day I arrived home, I immediately called the other guitar player and explained the situation, including the charges and my pending arraignment. I told him I was going to call each member individually, but I didn't get that chance. Less than 30 minutes later, I received a phone call from the entire band during which I was fired. They released a statement that same day. I understand these types of charges provoke a visceral reaction and that damage control would soon follow, but after 20 years of friendship, I was taken back by how quickly they came to the decision to fire me. They didn't want to hear me out, and they spent the conversation berating me about how this is going to affect them. Shockingly, one of the band members said that he was so embarrased by the charges that he wished I was charged with murder instead. I knew at this point I would never be given the chance to explain, nor be heard with any logic or reason. I have not spoken with any members of the band since that day.
My arraignment was held on December 13, 2013. The judge released me on my own recognizance with no bail required. He did not deem me a flight risk, nor was I a danger to the community.
After my arraignment, the custody battle with my ex-wife escalated. Despite the fact we already had established joint custody, she requested she be allowed to move the children to Idaho with her current partner, which I fervently contested. Five months after I was formally charged, and one week prior to our family court date, the charges were coincidentally made public. Subsequently, the family court judge ruled that in light of these charges, he would allow my children to be moved away from me. After the move in 2014, I was gradually cut off from all contact with my daughters, in direct violation of our pre-existing custody agreement. This has caused irreparable damage to my relationship with my daughters, and it has been the most devastating consequence I've experienced through all of this.
Over the next seven years, my court dates would get pushed back again and again, with new DAs inexplicably assigned to my case. Each new DA would then request extensions in order to have time to go over evidence. This cycle would repeat, and months turned into years without any progress. In all, there were a total of nine different DAs assigned to my case since 2013.
Fast forward to the end of 2020, and another new DA assigned to my case. Based on her assessment of the evidence, she concluded my case had initially been overcharged?—?a tactic used by law enforcement in which additional charges are added which they may not be able to prove in court, in hopes of forcing the defendant to accept a plea bargain—and that the evidence did not lead her to believe that I was a pedophile.
From there, we began to negotiate a plea agreement.
After several years of therapy, I now understand that seeking out sexual gratification online and saving these recordings was an unhealthy mechanism I used to cope with my crumbling marriage. However, it is still hard for me to come to terms with how this seemingly innocuous yet careless choice led to me losing so much. I admit what I did was unfaithful to my wife. However, I wholeheartedly believed every person I interacted with on that website was over the age of 18.
While I continue to regret many decisions I've made in the past, I do not regret the person I've become today. Therapy has helped me understand those unhealthy behaviors. I have grown and matured more than I ever would have otherwise, and I am now forming stronger, more meaningful relationships and friendships. I really didn't know who I was before this experience, as previously, my only identity was wrapped up in playing in a touring band. These years have given me time to reflect on who I am and who I want to be, and I continue to work hard to better myself personally and professionally. Overall, I feel it has not been time wasted. I am proud of the person I've become and the music I continue to make. I consider myself lucky to have had friends stand beside me through all of this. This whole process has been a nightmare, but sometimes people need to go through darkness in order to truly appreciate life.
With all that said, I can not fathom what my children have gone through, what impact this has had on their lives, or how they have come to feel about me. My attempts at making contact with them have been unsuccessful, especially since I believe their last names have been changed without my permission. The fact that I have missed a significant part of their childhood is devastating, but I can only hope that one day they are willing to have me in their lives again.
Again, I deeply regret the actions that led to this situation and I am sincerely apologetic to my friends and fans who have felt any disappointment in me over the past eight years. I'm hopeful that by explaining my perspective and by putting my experience out there in complete transparency, people are able to find understanding.
Thank you for reading.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, resources are available for help. Visit the RAINN website (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) or dial 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673).
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