BANGOR — The state’s former top drug prosecutor, convicted on seven child pornography charges and of contempt for fleeing the state while on bail, was sentenced Wednesday to nearly 16 years in federal prison.

James M. Cameron, 52, formerly of Hallowell and Rome, apologized to the judge, child pornography victims and his family Wednesday just before his sentencing in U.S. District Court. He was found possessing more than 100 images of child pornography, authorities said.

“I freely admit that late in 2006 and throughout 2007, at a difficult time in my life, I became addicted to child pornography,” Cameron told U.S. District Court Chief Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. “I did it, and I’m guilty because I did it.”

He added, “My deepest apologies of all go to victims of child pornography.”

Cameron spoke rapidly at first, slowing down as he went on to describe his change of attitude over the past two years behind bars.

“It’s been more than seven years since the commission of the crimes. I’ve been miserable,” he said. He added that jumping bail, which sparked a nationwide manhunt for him in November 2012, was one of his worst decisions.

Cameron said he realized he made his situation worse by fighting the charges in court and later fleeing, actions that amounted to a “catastrophe.” Waving his hands around, Cameron addressed the judge directly with self-reflection: “I had not accepted the results of my selfish criminal conduct. I now have thought about that at great length while sitting in my cell.”

He said reading Scripture has helped him.

“I’m glad I was charged, and I’m glad I was convicted,” he said. “I see myself in the future as a much better person than I’ve ever been before.”

Citing reports on Cameron’s health, Woodcock initially recommended that Cameron serve his 189-month sentence at the Federal Medical Center at Devens in Ayer, Mass. However, Woodcock changed that recommendation at the request of Cameron and Cameron’s attorney, David Beneman, to Englewood, the federal prison in Littleton, Colo., where Cameron already had spent some months under the earlier sentence.

Beneman said Cameron had suffered a leg injury in a motorcycle accident and a fractured shoulder while jailed for the past 24 months. Beneman said in his sentencing memo, “Jim was attacked (at jail) and suffered a broken shoulder. … As a former drug prosecutor he is at higher risk of physical assault while incarcerated.” No further details were available about that attack.

Woodcock addressed that issue at the close of the hearing, saying he hoped Cameron receives the protection he deserves.

“I don’t want you to come to any harm while you’re incarcerated,” Woodcock told him.

The seven child pornography counts for which Cameron was sentenced Wednesday were for offenses that occurred from June through December 2007 and included more than 175 images of child pornography. Cameron already has served three years, and he is expected to spend an additional 12 years in prison.

‘DISTURBING’ FLIGHT

Wednesday’s appearance was the second sentencing hearing for Cameron.

After the first one, at which he received a 16-year sentence, six of his 13 child pornography convictions were overturned by an appeals court and he was freed on bail pending appeal. Around Nov. 14, 2012, he cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet and fled Maine, heading for Mexico. He was arrested in New Mexico after an 18-day nationwide manhunt.

This time, the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gail Fisk Malone, sought a sentence of 24 to 30 years within the guidelines set by Woodcock. Beneman sought the minimum five-year sentence on the child pornography charges.

“This is a pretty average distribution case,” Beneman told the judge, saying it should be distinguished from cases in which the child pornography is produced or captured on video. Beneman also said none of the child pornography was found on state computers. Beneman had suggested an additional 18 months on the contempt-of-court conviction for fleeing on bail. Under federal statutes, the contempt sentence must be served consecutive to other sentences.

“That second crime is, frankly, very disturbing to the court,” Woodcock said just before imposing 24 months for the contempt charge on top of the 165 months for the child pornography convictions. “The second crime does not speak well to the defendant’s character.”

Woodcock said Cameron’s flight caused the government extreme expense and put U.S. marshals at risk. He also said Cameron had planned for that flight by forging checks and frequently stopping at ATMs to see if they had cleared, which is how marshals found and captured him.

Before imposing the sentence, Woodcock went through a series of federal child pornography cases in Maine, telling Cameron that some sentencing changes would benefit him this time, while others would not.

He repeated some of the conclusions he had stated at the original sentencing hearing in March 2011.

Before Cameron’s child pornography activities, the judge said he saw a person who was “intelligent, upstanding and working hard in a position of public trust.”

Woodcock said he agreed with the defense attorney that there was no explanation for the fact that Cameron began downloading “images of children being raped.” Woodcock said Cameron chose to download images of girls and young children being sexually exploited by men.

“Those images depicted the very worst of what we as human beings can be,” Woodcock said.

‘GROSS ABUSE’

Cameron, with mostly gray hair, came into the courtroom shackled, wearing a short-sleeved khaki jail uniform with the name “Strafford County (N.H.) Department of Corrections” on the back. An officer with the U.S. Marshals Service removed the handcuffs before Cameron sat down.

Wednesday’s sentencing hearing attracted more than 20 people, including a half dozen members of the news media; Lt. Glenn Lang, of the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit; Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham; and two of Cameron’s brothers.

Woodcock asked Cameron several initial questions to determine his competency, then more questions about material in a pre-sentencing report by the federal probation office.

Woodcock said this was an unusually complicated case with a number of issues, including a request from a victim for $5,400 restitution for a year of counseling. A letter from the girl’s mother is “truly heartbreaking,” Woodcock said, adding that he hoped Congress would create a national victims’ fund.

Following a brief talk in court, the defense and the prosecution agreed to a stipulated restitution of $2,500.

The prosecutor said in a sentencing memo that Cameron’s sentence should be longer because of “his gross abuse of his state position” as the former chief drug prosecutor in the Maine attorney general’s office.

“He committed his crimes on work time, falsifying work records to make it appear he was working when he was home trading child pornography. The lack of scrutiny he enjoyed as a supervisor gave him the freedom to be gone for hours undetected,” Malone wrote. “He exploited his position as a state prosecutor to make his crime possible; indeed, to fund it.”

Malone wrote that Cameron, for at least two years, “indulged a fascination with images depicting children engaged in sex acts,” searching for and sharing images while “he was being paid to work as a prosecutor for the state of Maine.”

“He did this while he was home, while he was on business trips, while he was on vacation with his family. He did this despite knowing he would likely lose his job, his family and his reputation over it,” she wrote. “When he was caught, he minimized his involvement.”

Malone said Cameron initially blamed his autistic son for the pornographic images and later “mounted a scorched-earth defense” in court before he took flight while free on bail and forged checks to fund his run. Cameron previously had filed numerous court motions challenging nearly every aspect of the case — at one point accusing the government of being vindictive against him — all of which caused delays.

“Nothing about James Cameron’s case is average,” Malone told the judge.

QUESTIONS OF CHARACTER

Beneman, who has represented Cameron for the past two years, admitted that Cameron handled the case “poorly at almost every juncture.”

In response, Woodcock questioned Beneman about Cameron’s character. Woodcock said he sees “a man who is selfish, who is arrogant and who is not willing to abide by the rules the rest of us abide by.”

Woodcock conceded that he initially was reluctant to release Cameron on bail “because he had shown a remarkable lack of self-control regarding his obsession with child pornography.” Woodcock said he was worried Cameron might do “something untoward” involving children or would kill himself.

“I just didn’t think he would run,” Woodcock said.

Woodcock said Cameron “deliberately, consciously, willfully was in contempt of this court. He required, as a consequence of his actions, virtually a nationwide manhunt to track him down,” and said authorities found him close to the Mexican border because he kept checking at ATMs to see if the $40,000 in checks he had forged had cleared.

“He hurt himself by going on the lam,” Beneman said.

Meanwhile, Cameron told the judge that he hopes to spend the rest of his life doing constructive things.

“I will never, ever practice law again,” he said. “I know that’s going to be an uphill battle for me.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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