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Sen. Folmer admitted to receiving child pornography, criminal complaint states; details emerge in arrest

By Jason Maddux

jasonmaddux@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 9/18/19

State Sen. Mike Folmer admitted to authorities that “he had been dealing with some personal problems/issues and that he had received child pornography through his Tumblr blog,” according …

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Sen. Folmer admitted to receiving child pornography, criminal complaint states; details emerge in arrest

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State Sen. Mike Folmer admitted to authorities that “he had been dealing with some personal problems/issues and that he had received child pornography through his Tumblr blog,” according to the criminal complaint filed in the case.

In the course of executing the search warrant Tuesday, authorities found two images of apparent child pornography on his Apple iPhone, according to the complaint.

Folmer, whose 48th District includes Middletown and Lower Swatara and Londonderry Townships, was charged Tuesday with sexual abuse of children, possession of child pornography, and criminal use of a communication facility, four felonies in total. He was placed under arrest at his Lebanon home.

Online court records state that his preliminary hearing before Magisterial District Judge Thomas M. Capello in Lebanon County is set for 8:30 a.m. Sept. 26. He posted $25,000 bail, according to online court records.

He has been stripped of his chairmanship of the Senate State Government Committee, and Gov. Tom Wolf and other elected officials have called on him to resign.

The Office of Attorney General’s Child Predator Section, Lebanon City Police Department, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security executed the search warrant at about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. He was at his office in Lebanon at the time; authorities contacted him and he returned to his home, and turned over his phone.

According to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the investigation began as a result of a CyberTip reporting that an electronic service provider, Tumblr, discovered that a user had uploaded an image of child pornography using their application.

That image was uploaded Dec. 28, 2017, according to the criminal complaint filed by police. However, it wasn’t until Feb. 5, 2019, that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received the complaint from Tumblr about the image, and authorities opened the case March 4, 2019.

After his arrest, Folmer admitted that the Tumblr account associated with the CyberTip was his, along with the email address associated with the Tumblr account, according to the complaint.

Folmer told police “he had been dealing with some personal problems/issues and that he had received child pornography through his Tumblr blog,” the criminal complaint states.

Folmer, 63, and his wife, Shelia, have two grown children and seven grandchildren.

“This defendant serves as a state senator and was entrusted to honor and represent his community in the Pennsylvania Capitol,” Shapiro said in a press release Tuesday. “I will continue to say it — no one is above the law, no matter what position of power they hold. I will continue to work to protect children and hold those who abuse them accountable.”

Calls for resignation

According to a statement released jointly late Tuesday by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, Folmer has lost his State Government Committee chairmanship.

“We are shocked to learn tonight of the allegations made against Senator Folmer. We will fully cooperate with law enforcement regarding this deeply disturbing matter,” the statement reads.

“Given the severity of these charges, Senator Folmer is immediately being removed as chair of the Senate State Government Committee. Further action in response to these charges will be taken by Senate leadership in the coming days.” 

Gov. Tom Wolf called for Folmer to resign immediately:

“We elect leaders to serve as a voice for those who do not have the ability to advocate for their own needs, demanding that they will protect our children, families and communities. The charges against Senator Folmer are disgusting and beyond comprehension, and show he has taken advantage of the trust and privilege afforded by the people of Pennsylvania. He should immediately resign.”

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale sent out a tweet early Wednesday that also called for Folmer to resign.

“The charges against Senator Folmer are beyond shocking. Abuse of children in any fashion is unacceptable. People in leadership must be held to.a higher standard. He must resign immediately,” the tweet read.

Sen. John DiSanto, whose 15th Senate District includes part of Dauphin County and borders Folmer’s, also called for Folmer’s resignation on Wednesday morning.

“Reprehensible. The sexual exploitation of children is immoral and criminal. He needs to resign immediately and be held accountable for his actions,” the Republican said in a press release.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman tweeted on Wednesday: "As president of the Pennsylvania Senate, I call for Senator Folmer’s immediate resignation or rapid expulsion from the chamber."

How the case unfolded

After the case was opened March 4, Tumblr provided authorities the URL, email, screen name and IP address associated with the account, along with the file name of the suspected child pornography.

Authorities then investigated the IP address and the Yahoo email address.

On March 18, Yahoo provided information about the email address associated with the Tumblr account that included a telephone number. Authorities contacted AT&T, and on March 26, AT&T reported that the telephone number came back to Sheila Folmer with an associated street address on Eighth Street in Lebanon as well as other information tying the account to Sen. Folmer.

Authorities on July 19 reached out to Yahoo to see if the Yahoo email was still active. On July 26, Yahoo provided more details including information about the IP addresses used to access the email account.

Authorities determined that the IP addresses were associated with Comcast. A subpoena filed with Comcast further tied the IP addresses with subscriber Michael Folmer.

Based on the information gathered, authorities executed the search warrant Tuesday.

The case will be prosecuted by Senior Deputy Attorney General Christopher Jones.

What happens if he resigns?

If Folmer were to resign, according to election law, the presiding officer of the Senate has 10 days to issue a writ to hold a special election. If the next regularly scheduled election is outside of 60 days, it could be held on that date.

Because the next general election, on Nov. 5, is inside the 60-day window, that would not be possible in this case. The next scheduled election is the April 28, 2020 primary.

However, the presiding officer can set the date for any time after the 60-day window, and county elections officials in the affected counties would coordinate the election. In this case, that would be Dauphin, Lebanon and York, the counties that are part of Folmer’s district.

Electoral history

Folmer, a Republican, was elected to the Senate in 2006 and was re-elected in 2010, 2014 and 2018. He is widely known as “Marijuana Mike” for his push to legalize medical marijuana in the state.

In the Senate, Folmer also serves on the Education; Intergovernmental Operations; Labor and Industry; Communications and Technology; and Rules and Executive Nominations committees.

His family owned a fruit and produce store in Lebanon. He was elected to the Lebanon City Council in 1986.