AuSABLE Twp. – Zachary Bert Scholten, 30, Oscoda, has been arrested and charged with 72 felony counts of aggravated possession of child sexually abusive material (CSAM/child pornography). If convicted as charged, he could face up to 10 years in prison and/or fines of $50,000.
Scholten is also facing one felony count of using a computer to commit a crime, and he was arraigned Monday in Iosco County’s 81st District Court.
He was lodged in the Iosco County jail and court staff noted that he did not post bond, which was set at 10 percent of $750,000.
Scholten – who briefly worked as executive director of the Oscoda-AuSable Chamber of Commerce (OACC) – was due back in court Tuesday, after this publication had gone to print, for a probable cause conference.
According to the Iosco County Prosecutor’s Office, Chief Assistant Prosecutor James A. Bacarella authorized a felony complaint against Scholten, on March 5, for the 73 counts.
An investigation – headed by Detective Sergeant Erik McNichol of the Oscoda Township Police Department (OTPD) – began when authorities were notified that a cell phone containing child pornography was discovered by an OACC employee.
Police then obtained search warrants for the phone, which the prosecutor’s office says produced more than 4,000 images and 300 videos, many of which included CSAM.
As noted in court records, OTPD officers were dispatched to the OACC building – located on US-23 in AuSable Township – on the evening of Dec. 28, 2019, for a possible possession of CSAM complaint.
Authorities met with several chamber representatives, who had gathered at the building to assess a financial situation and satisfy any outstanding debts on the part of the OACC.
In an effort to locate some unpaid bills and other business documentation, the chamber representatives say they looked through the interior portion of the building, specifically near the front service counter and the area associated with the work space of Scholten.
It was during the search when one of the individuals allegedly located a cloth bag containing eight cellular telephones of varying makes, models and conditions.
Acting under the assumption that the cellphones may have been stolen or turned in to the chamber as lost, the representatives attempted to access the phones, in order to identify and locate the rightful owners of each device.
According to court documents, they accessed just one of the cellphones in question, and allegedly noted videos and pictures of what they perceived to be CSAM. The individuals also told McNichol that they observed photographs of a nude male subject on the phone, who they recognized to be Scholten.
McNichol drafted and swore to a search warrant for the phone in question. The device was subsequently sent to the Michigan State Police Computer Crimes Unit Forensic Laboratory, where D/Tpr. Evan Zapolski accessed and analyzed the contents of the phone.
It was on Feb. 25 when McNichol retrieved from the laboratory the device and two secured DVDs containing data which was extracted from the device.
He reviewed the data and noted that the information allegedly documented 4,155 images, and that the vast majority of these images portrayed children posing nude, posing for cameras and acting out sexual intercourse.
Nude photos of Scholten – who allegedly accessed internet chat sites on the phone to communicate with unidentified users for the purpose of conversation and to exchange images – were also found on the device.
Authorities state that the provided documentation recorded more than 70 social media chats between the cellphone user and other social media users. In several of these chats, the individuals communicating with Scholten told him that they were 13-14 years old.
The documentation also allegedly shows an association between the cellular device and multiple social media accounts with multiple usernames.
Zapolski advised that, during the analysis of the phone, he found indications that data had been uploaded from the phone to an account associated with one of Scholten’s alleged e-mail/usernames.
McNichol swore to a search warrant for the account associated with the e-mail/username. Upon receiving and reviewing the data provided, he says that he noted at least 549 videos. The vast majority of the videos in question allegedly contained content consistent with CSAM.
McNichol reviewed the documentation from the related cellphone and online account, which allegedly shows a variety of sexual interactions involving children, both male and female.
As previously reported, Scholten started out as interim executive director of the OACC on Sept. 3, 2019, when the former director left this position.
Scholten and his wife had moved from Grand Rapids to Oscoda about six months prior.
The chamber board of directors then presented Scholten with a contract to be hired as the official executive director on Dec. 13, 2019. They accepted his resignation, though, just 16 days after he took the job.
Conflicting information was provided, and a Dec. 30, 2019 press release from the OACC read that Scholten’s resignation was effective on Dec. 29.
According to the document, Scholten expressed that, due to personal challenges, he could no longer serve as the director.
A second press release was issued the next day, however, in which it was stated that the OACC has a very active and hands-on board of directors who unanimously agreed that the organization needed a different person to lead the charge for the community.