Former CMU faculty member enters guilty plea for child pornography charges

A former Central Michigan University faculty member charged with possession of child pornography is scheduled to appear in federal court at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27 at the U.S. District Court in Bay City.

Mark Ranzenberger's legal counsel filed documents Friday to enter a guilty plea before Magistrate Judge Patricia Morris. 

The plea agreement must be accepted by Judge Thomas Luddington, who will sentence Ranzenberger based on the details of the plea. Ranzenberger had been scheduled for a jury trial before Luddington on Nov. 1.

Ranzenberger was arrested May 20 after police found 1,032 images of child pornography on various digital devices in his possession.

CMU’s investigation of Ranzenberger began after a student reported seeing thumbnails of pornographic images on his computer. Ranzenberger unknowingly projected those images onto a classroom overhead screen, the student reported. The Office Information Technology made a remote back up of Ranzenberger’s computer that day. 

On March 9, Faculty Personnel Services found images of child pornography on Ranzenberger's computer and reported their findings to the Central Michigan University Police Department.

Detective Michael Sienkiewicz and other officers obtained a search warrant on March 10 and searched Ranzenberger’s office. Police confiscated a university-owned iMac computer, USB external hard drive, zip disk/drive, four 3.5 floppy disks, two USB thumb drives, two Flip video cameras, an IGB hard drive, a Kodak digital camera with an SD card, an iPad and multiple digital storage devices. Ranzenberger later voluntarily turned his personal computer over to CMUPD.

A U.S. Secret Service criminal complaint filed May 19 states Ranzenberger admitted to CMUPD Sgt. Mike Morrow he had obtained the images from a German website between 2004 and 2008. He said he saved multiple PowerPoint files containing pornographic images into his Dropbox cloud storage account.

The complaint said out of the 1,032 photos obtained, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children logged that 86 of the images had identifiable children within them. The NCMEC had logged 502 of the photos from previous investigations. Another 444 were not logged.

According to the complaint, Ranzenberger told Morrow he thought he had “gotten rid of all that stuff.”

A document was also found in the search detailing how to “groom” a child from birth to age 11 to make them more receptive to participating in sexual acts. Ranzenberger said the document was “purely fantasy.”

U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Chris Cruze said Ranzenberger told investigators he had accessed a bulletin board sometime between 2004 and 2006 and downloaded several zip files containing pornographic images of children.

The content found included images of children younger than 12 years old engaged in sex acts, and one image of the penetration of an infant. Police also found photos of clothed children in public locations taken by Ranzenberger, without the knowledge of the children.

Ranzenberger told investigators despite looking at images and writing the grooming document, he never sexually assaulted a child.

Ranzenberger submitted a hand-written letter of resignation to the university on March 21. Central Michigan Life obtained the letter through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“I hereby voluntarily tender my irrevocable resignation from Central Michigan University, effective immediately,” the letter read.

On the same day, Ranzenberger submitted a letter of resignation to the Mount Pleasant City Commission.

“I hereby resign my position on the Mount Pleasant Planning Commission. Thank you to the City Commission, the other planning commissioners, the excellent city staff and the community for the chance to serve,” he wrote.

City commissioners accepted his resignation March 28. His term was set to expire in December.

A CMU alumnus, Ranzenberger taught journalism and broadcast and cinematic arts classes at CMU since 1999. He previously worked at the Midland Daily News, Huron Daily Tribune and The Morning Sun.