Pine Grove area businessman found guilty of child pornography charges

Mar. 8—POTTSVILLE — A Pine Grove area businessman was found guilty in Schuylkill County Court on child pornography related offenses and immediately sent to prison.

A jury on Tuesday found Michael Barto, 69, of 3470 Sweet Arrow Lake Road, guilty of 30 counts of sexual abuse of children-possession of child pornography and one count of criminal use of a communications facility.

After the verdict, Barto was placed in shackles and committed to Schuylkill County Prison to await sentencing when Judge Christopher W. Hobbs revoked his $75,000 straight cash bail set at the time of his arrest.

Hobbs also ordered a presentence investigation and a Sexual Offenders Assessment order and said he will schedule sentencing at a later date.

Angela Sperrazza, deputy attorney general with the Office of the Attorney General Child Predator Section, prosecuted the case. Barto was represented by attorney Jay M. Nigrini, Reading.

As a result of the verdict, Barto faces a maximum prison sentence of 153 1/2 years to 307 years.

The charges were filed by Special Agent Kathleen Fallon of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force on Aug. 12, 2021, for crimes between April 22, 2021, and the time of Barto's arrest.

Fallon said the arrest resulted from an investigation that began when a tip was reported to CyberTipline that a user uploaded at least two videos of apparent child pornography to the computer file hosting program Dropbox.

She said the investigation led to Barto being identified through an internet protocol address and that the internet connection he used to download the illegal files was also used for his business, Branch Homes.

On Aug. 12, 2021, Fallon said agents and Pine Grove police officers executed a search warrant at Barto's home issued by Magisterial District Judge David J. Rossi.

Eleven videos were found on his computer that depicted child pornography involving girls between 13 and 15, and possibly younger.

Fallon said that, during questioning, Barto admitted he had downloaded and watched the videos.

The agent said Barto told authorities he only looks at the videos and would never touch a child.