Crime and Courts

San Diego substitute teacher, hockey coach ‘Mr. Pickles' sentenced in child-porn case

Daniel Dasko, who officials say was using the alias "Mr. Pickles," baited young boys into sending him sexually explicit content and traded child porn with people across the country, according to prosecutors

Daniel Dasko, a San Diego-area substitute teacher and hockey coach at the San Diego Ice Arena. Dasko is facing federal child pornography charges.
San Diego Ice Arena

A North County man who worked as a teachers aide, substitute teacher and youth hockey coach was sentenced Tuesday to nearly 16 years in federal prison for his role in a scheme to trick minors into sending sexually explicit material of themselves to him and two co-conspirators.

Daniel Dasko was arrested last year after federal authorities said he worked with two people, one of whom was a Philadelphia-area teacher, to solicit child pornography from minor victims.

NBC 7's Omari Fleming reports from the North County ice rink where Daniel Dasko worked and coached.

That teacher, Andrew Wolf, was sentenced earlier this year to nearly 39 years in prison, while another defendant, Kray Strange of Carthage, New York, was sentenced to 33 years in prison.

Federal prosecutors said the other two men worked to "catfish" victims by posing as teenage girls online. In a sentencing memorandum filed by prosecutors, they wrote that several of the minor victims were targeted "because Dasko provided their names and publicly available online information."

Dasko's defense attorney, Marcus Bourassa, wrote in a sentencing memorandum that his client's conduct differed from the other two defendants, who "were operating on a different scale" by directly baiting victims in the catfishing scheme.

Bourassa, who sought a seven-year sentence for Dasko, also said his client accepted responsibility early by immediately seeking sex offender treatment from the outset of the case.

In a letter to U.S. District Judge Linda Lopez, Dasko wrote that while he "earnestly loved teaching and coaching," he could not "fault anyone who is disgusted with my career choices in light of my crimes here. I share their disgust with myself."

Dasko pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of distribution of child pornography.

At his sentencing hearing, Dasko read a letter he'd authored to the victims, in which he wrote "I'm sorry that I will never be able to make amends to you. I am sure you all carry this unwanted burden on your shoulders every day and will continue to do so for the rest of your lives. ... I always will and I deserve to carry a great burden for what I have done to you."

Lopez, who imposed a 188-month sentence, also heard from the mother of a teenage boy who was 13 years old when he shared sexually explicit content of himself with someone he thought was a 13-year-old girl.

The woman said her son continues to suffer from feelings of humiliation and self-loathing, as well as fear that images of himself may be circulating online.

"It is impossible for me to adequately communicate the sense of shame this has brought to my son," she said. "Watching my once happy, bubbly, outgoing boy be engulfed in despair fills me with a despondence that I have never known."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Griffith said the victim and his mother "are a microcosm of the dozens and dozens of children that were impacted."

The San Diego County Office of Education confirmed Dasko is listed as a substitute for the Del Mar, Encinitas, Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach school districts, and at one point worked in the San Dieguito Union School District.

Coaches at the San Diego Ice Arena confirmed last year that Drasko helped coach the 12-under team.

"Forty years. Never had anything like that happen in my program," said Joel Henderso, president of the San Diego Ice Arena Oilers Hockey Club.

Henderson said Drasko was reported to the U.S. Center for Safesport and was removed from SDIA programs as soon as they found out.

"It's shocking and terrifying because these are people we think we trust who are teaching our kids a sport," said the older sister of one of Drasko's players. "It's eye-opening how careful we have to be in places we think we might not have to.

During that investigation, prosecutors a the Philadelphia teacher was found to be communicating online with another person who went by the name "Mr. Pickles," who the U.S. Attorney's Office contends is Dasko.

Prosecutors said the teacher and "Mr. Pickles" exchanged more than 3,600 messages over the course of a year, the majority of which revolved around "sexually exploiting children they knew or met online." They also traded image and video files, though the complaint states that the content of many of these files could not be viewed by law enforcement.

However, the complaint states that last year, "Alex" sent "Mr. Pickles" a sexually explicit video he had acquired from a teenage boy, which "Mr. Pickles" then sent to the Philadelphia teacher.

Prosecutors said that upon Dasko's arrest, he admitted he was "Mr. Pickles." The complaint states that he also admitted "that he would solicit others for images of minor males who were naked."

Dasko, who is out on bond, was ordered to report to prison on Oct. 3, according to prosecutors.

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