URBANA — A Mahomet man who admitted that for years he secretly took lewd pictures of young girls in his home and recorded women in restrooms and dressing rooms faces decades in federal prison.
Michael Denight, 59, whose last known address was in the 700 block of North Craig Drive, pleaded guilty Thursday before U.S. Magistrate David Bernthal in Urbana to six counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and one of possession of child pornography.
His sentencing has been tentatively set for Sept. 27 before Judge Michael McCuskey. He is represented by Urbana attorneys Steve Beckett and Brett Olmstead. Assistant U.S. Attorney Elly Peirson prosecuted him.
The plea agreement entered into by Denight revealed that his criminal activity first came to light on Feb. 13, 2012, when a female customer of the Espresso Royale shop at 602 E. Daniel St., C, saw what she thought was a video recorder in the women's restroom. She told an employee about it, then she and that woman saw a man go toward the restroom and quickly leave the coffee shop.
The women checked the restroom and the device was gone but personal items, including Denight's cellphone, were still there. That led Champaign police to him. Two days later, the employee picked Denight out of a photo lineup.
On Feb. 16, 2012, Champaign police detective Tom Petrilli went to Denight's Mahomet home, where Denight agreed to speak to him. Denight admitted then that he tried to make video recordings at Espresso Royale and at Fat Sandwich Company, 502 E. John St., C, on Feb. 15. He allowed police to take his computer.
Later, Denight also revealed to Petrilli that he had been secretly recording girls, ages 12 to 15, in the bathroom of his own homes beginning in 2000 and continuing through 2007.
Additionally, he admitted to video recording women in his own home and in public restrooms and dressing rooms at department stores since 2000.
He believed his "perversion" started when he was about 13 and went window peeping with friends.
An employee of the Army Corps of Engineers' Construction Engineering Research Laboratory in Champaign, Denight said he had extensive knowledge of computers and photography and used that to put recording devices in a number of places to record young and mature women without their knowledge. He stored the images on flash drives and laptop computers.
He identified for police images of three girls between the ages of 13 and 16 who were in various states of undress in the bathroom of his home and admitted there could have been more.
The plea agreement said a forensic examination of Denight's computer by Champaign police officer Patrick Simons, who's been specially trained to do that, "confirmed hundreds of images of females taken in both private and public restrooms that appear to have been taken without their knowledge or consent" and that many of the images showed the sex organs of the younger girls.
Petrilli identified six of the young women who appeared in Denight's pictures and interviewed them. The young women told Petrilli that they would have been between the ages of about 11 and 16 when their pictures were taken without them knowing.
Because the judge could order the sentences on the various counts to be served consecutively, the maximum possible penalty Denight faces is up to 140 years in prison and fines of up to $1.75 million. Denight has been in custody since his arrest in February 2012.