A Portland man who was part of a neo-Nazi group has pleaded guilty in federal court to possession of child pornography.

Andrew Hazelton, 28, appeared Thursday in U.S. District Court in Portland by video from an undisclosed address in western New Hampshire. He was originally held without bail after his arrest in May, but a judge allowed him to be released in June on $25,000 unsecured bond and strict conditions, including supervision by his father. He will report to jail in August and be sentenced at a later date. He could face up to 20 years in prison.

The plea hearing did not include any reference to Hazelton’s connections to a white supremacist group or his former employer’s fears that he might commit a workplace shooting. Hazelton admitted to possessing dozens of explicit videos of children. He also agreed to forfeit the Samsung cellphone on which investigators discovered those video files.

The allegation that Hazelton had a sexual interest in children dates to a 2019 investigation by the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office, whose investigators found that he sought explicit photos from a 10-year-old girl. But Hazelton was never charged in that case, and it’s unclear why.

The more recent investigation by the FBI appears to have stemmed from a report by a Portland business owner who used to employ Hazelton. He was increasingly alarmed by Hazelton’s behavior and called police after receiving an anonymous tip with an image that showed someone pointing a stun-gun device at another employee in their office.

In April, an FBI investigator sought a warrant to search Hazelton’s electronic devices for child pornography based on the incident in Penobscot County. Agents seized guns, his cellphone and his computer. Hazelton was arrested the same day.

Typically, a person who is convicted of possession of child pornography would be immediately detained. David Beneman, the federal public defender who is representing Hazelton, asked that he be allowed to report to jail in August after he has met with his doctor and arranged for multiple prescriptions to be available there. Hazelton disclosed that he is taking multiple medications to treat bipolar disorder, depression and panic attacks, as well as suboxone as part of his recovery from opioids. Beneman said his client has done well on his bail conditions and agreed to plead guilty without any plea offer from the federal prosecutor.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Wolff did not take a position on the request. U.S. District Judge John Woodcock agreed to let Hazelton report to an undetermined facility on Aug. 12.

“I wouldn’t release you if I thought you were going to violate your conditions,” Woodcock said. “But I would warn you, Mr. Hazelton, that now is not the time to do anything foolish. Now is not the time to violate the law in any form or fashion. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Your Honor,” Hazelton answered.

The judge also noted that Hazelton has not been vaccinated against COVID-19. He said he would not order Hazelton to do so, but he asked him to consider it.

“The vaccine protects not only you, but also the people around you,” Woodcock said. “When you go into a jail, when you’re in close contact, you’ll be at less risk to yourself (if you are vaccinated), but you’ll also present less risk to others.”

The sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled. While his affiliation with a neo-Nazi group did not come up during the plea hearing, it could be included in reports and memos that are meant to help the judge impose a penalty.

Hazelton is a white supremacist and former member of NSC-131, which was formed in Massachusetts and pushes age-old racist tropes that were touted by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party.

He was first identified by an anonymous group of Twitter anti-fascist activists who scour social media and monitor extremist groups to publicly out alleged white nationalists and Nazi sympathizers. Sometime in April, someone also began posting flyers on telephone poles near his home near the University of New England identifying him as a white nationalist. NSC New England, the local chapter of the hate group, expelled him by name after his arrest in a statement posted to Telegram, an encrypted messaging platform.

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