CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A former Ripley police officer who had a sexual relationship with a teen girl let out a sob as a federal court judge ordered him to prison for one year and one day.
U.S. District Court Judge John Copenhaver could have sentenced George Michael Puskas II, 32, to the maximum 10 years in federal prison and a lifetime of supervised release on Monday, but instead, saying the case was "not the usual child pornography case," the judge opted for a lower sentence.
"This relationship was consensual though it seems to have been largely induced by you," Copenhaver said Monday afternoon.
Puskas' sentence will be followed by 10 years of supervised release. The former Ripley police officer will also have to register as a sex offender. Wearing a dark-colored suit, Puskas and a woman sitting with his family cried when the judge mentioned the sex offender registry.
"I'm sorry for my involvement in taking and receiving these pictures," he said, his voice soft. "I'm sorry to my family for the pain and stress this has put them through."
Puskas, who resigned from the Ripley Police Department in May 2012 after nearly four years on the force, pleaded guilty in July to possession of child pornography by way of information.
State Police began investigating him in September 2011 when the girl, then 18, came forward with claims that Puskas threatened her after their sexual relationship ended months before.
The victim was not identified in criminal court documents, but she identified herself as Katelyn Sleboda, 20, in a civil lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court against Puskas and the Ripley Police Department. Sleboda initially sought restitution in the criminal matter but withdrew her claim before filing a civil lawsuit.
She alleges the Ripley Police Department failed to supervise Puskas and that he "sexually and physically" abused her while he was on duty and used department-issued equipment to video and photograph her in sexually explicit positions and activities.
She is seeking damages and reimbursement for attorneys' fees and costs. Copenhaver will also hear that case.
Sleboda did not attend Monday's sentencing.
David Bungard, Puskas' attorney, argued for the judge to sentence Puskas to time served for the two weeks he spent at South Central Regional Jail last year upon his arrest and 15 years of supervised release. He worried about Puskas' safety in prison because of his status as a former police officer.
He argued the sexual relationship between Puskas and Sleboda was consensual and a matter of "sexting," the act of sending sexually explicit photos or messages via text message.
"The heart of this case comes down to both the victim and Mr. Puskas taking sexually explicit pictures and sending them between each other," Bungard said. "There was no evidence that Mr. Puskas transmitted or posted them anywhere. They were private."
Sleboda sent photos of herself nude and semi-nude to Puskas, Bungard argued.
"It was her decision as much as his to participate in a sexual relationship," Bungard said after pointing out that the sexual aspect of their relationship didn't begin until she was 16 years old, the age of consent in West Virginia.
Bungard said she continued sending him photos of herself from April 2011 through December 2011.
"Clearly these two remained interested in one another," he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Johnston rebuffed Bungard's claims about the case being about sexting.
"This is not a teenage sexting case," Johnston said. "This defendant was not a teenager.
"This isn't just a typical sexting case. This is so much more."