McHenry County lawyer convicted of manufacturing child porn

A Crystal Lake attorney was found guilty this week of manufacturing child pornography involving a 14-year-old girl inside a family changing area at an Algonquin fitness center.

A McHenry County judge ruled that James T. Zeas, 48, of Lake Barrington, recorded video of the girl as she undressed inside a bathroom at LifeTime Fitness Club in Algonquin. His case was heard before Judge Michael Feetterer rather than a jury.

Feetterer read his ruling stating that he had considered all the evidence including the factors present which made the video rise to the level of being lewd. Saying the video did show the young girl “partially nude” revealed her breasts and its recording appeared to be “intended to illicit a sexual response.”

He also noted that Zeas was seen on the video during both attempts to record the girl and seen trying to hide the camera with paper towels and a red hat.

The video appeared to be shot by a “voyeur” as part of “sexually deviant behavior,” Feetterer said.

Zeas, whose bond was immediately revoked, nervously ran his hands through his hair, rubbed and wrinkled his face several times during the judge’s ruling.

In closing arguments held last month Assistant State’s Attorney Kate Lenhard likened Zeas to a “voyeur” and a “peeping tom.”

Lenhard said in the summer of 2009, without the girl’s knowledge, Zeas set up a camera inside the bathroom, left then waited for her to change from her street clothes into a bathing suit. But his first attempt failed as the girl was out of the camera’s view.

Lenhard said that later that day after the girl swam Zeas tried again. She said he is seen on the video adjusting the camera’s angle to capture a larger view, he then covers the camera with a red hat and leaves the bathroom. Shortly after the girl enters and changes from her swimsuit into street clothes. This time she was captured on the video and her breasts were “exposed” to the camera as part of Zeas’ ”covert observation.”

Lenhard said the girl was not posing or aware of the camera. She thought she was alone and private not knowing “the peeping tom is watching.”

“He took the innocence of a child … he manufactured that into a voyeuristic (video) … that he then kept.” Lenhard said.

The images were discovered on Zeas’ laptop in 2011 by his wife who was “horrified” by what she saw, Lenhard said. The woman kicked Zeas out of their Crystal Lake home and filed for divorce. The videos were eventually turned over to authority.

When his then wife asked about the videos Lenhard said Zeas’ response was: “You don’t understand them, It’s not what it seems, I’ll lose my (law) license … he never says ‘I didn’t do it,’ “ Lenhard said.

However, Barry Lewis, Zeas’ defense attorney, argued that when the videos were turned over to authorities in 2015 the couple was in a “contentious” divorce and custody battle.

Lewis charged that Zeas’ ex-wife, who works with mainframes in the banking industry, somehow manufactured the videos herself. He also said that the girl did not look underage in the videos and that the images do not rise to the level of pornography because they are not sexually provocative, not recorded in a sexually suggestive setting and do not show the girl’s lower genitals.

“There is nothing sexually suggestive about the way she was in the video,” he said.

The lawyer also argued that in 2009 iPhones did not have the capability of video recording, however the state has said in previous court proceedings that they never specified what device actually made the recordings.

You “have to believe someone else created this video,” Lewis said.

A representative from LifeTime Fitness said in an email that Zeas’ actions “clearly were not in line with our policies or expectations.”

The company cooperated with the investigation and will remain “vigilant” in enforcing their policies, said Natalie Bushaw, director public relations

There is “no tolerance for unacceptable behaviors or actions,” she wrote.

Zeas is set for sentencing March 29.

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