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Swim teacher denies child porn charges

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Nicholas Hodges. Photo: Courtesy SFPD
Nicholas Hodges. Photo: Courtesy SFPD  

A San Francisco man who worked as a children's swim instructor has pleaded not guilty to charges including possession and distribution of child pornography.

At Nicholas Hodges' arraignment Monday, Assistant District Attorney Lili Nguyen said that he'd had well over 600 files of child pornography, including a video where a 7- or 8-year old boy "bound by handcuffs to his ankles" was "sodomized for several minutes."

Hodges, 28, who worked at San Francisco's La Petite Baleen swim school, was arrested last Tuesday and is in custody on $435,000 bail. Besides the felony possession and distribution charges, he also faces felony counts of using a minor for sex acts and sending harmful material to a minor, according to sheriff's department records.

Nguyen said that Hodges had enticed a 14-year-old boy to send him photos, among other allegations. She said that besides La Petite, where he'd worked since September 2015, Hodges had also had access to minors through his previous work at the House of Air trampoline park in San Francisco and Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion.

The materials that authorities found included a video depicting a 2-year-old, Nguyen said. Hodges' cellphone held more than 100 videos, and he also had thumb drives that contained images of "infants and toddlers being raped and sodomized," she said.

Prosecutors are "extremely concerned about public safety," Nguyen said.

She said authorities have received "hundreds of phone calls from concerned parents and relatives" of "boys between the ages of 6 and 7," and concerns about Hodges are "actively being investigated."

In a news release last Thursday, San Francisco police said that the Internet Crimes Against Children Unit began an investigation in March of someone "who was uploading and storing hundreds of graphic child pornography files online."

Hodges was identified as the suspect, police said, and last Tuesday, investigators executed a search warrant on his apartment. They found "numerous media devices belonging to Hodges, which all contained hundreds of child pornography files," police said.

He was arrested and taken into custody at the swim school. A phone that was taken from him "contained additional evidence of child exploitation," police said, adding, "The investigation into Hodges' involvement in children programs is ongoing. Hodges' employer has and continues to be cooperative and involved in the police investigation."

In a statement on La Petite's website, owner and Chief Executive Officer John Kolbisen said, "We are shocked and horrified by these charges."

Hodges had "passed a 50-state background check that included fingerprinting," Kolbisen stated, and school officials "took immediate steps to investigate and then terminate" Hodges when they learned of the allegations.

"At this time, we are not aware of evidence or allegations linking any of our students" to the charges, Kolbisen said.

A manager at House of Air, where Hodges worked from February 2013 through January 2016, called the charges against him "a big shock." She said the company has reached out to police but hasn't received a response.

San Francisco Police Officer Robert Rueca, a department spokesman, said, "We have been in contact with them."

Spokespeople for Disney World didn't immediately respond to an after-hours request for comment Monday.

Adam Gasner, Hodges' attorney, said his client has "no prior criminal history." In an unsuccessful attempt to have Hodges' bail lowered to $100,000 to $150,000 so that he could be released, Gasner said his client would live with his parents in Oakland and "seek some treatment."

Two people who know Hodges said that he's gay.

Hodges, who appeared in court in handcuffs Monday, declined the Bay Area Reporter's request for an interview last week.

Hodges' parents, who were also in court, declined to speak to the B.A.R.

Police say anyone who "may have been a victim or have had any suspicious contact" with Hodges should contact the Special Victims Unit at (415) 558-5500.



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