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Ex-KNBC producer Phil Drechsler accepts plea deal in child porn case

Former KNBC-TV producer Phil Drechsler appears in an undated handout mugshot. (Graphic by The Desk)
Former KNBC-TV producer Phil Drechsler appears in an undated handout mugshot. (Graphic by The Desk)

A former television news producer has agreed to plead guilty to federal child pornography charges more than a year after his arrest.

The acceptance of responsibility was outlined in a 22-page court filing entered by federal prosecutors on Monday, through which 61-year-old Phil Drechsler agreed to plead guilty to one count of child pornography in exchange for a recommendation that he be sentenced to the statutory minimum term of imprisonment.

Under the law, Drechsler will be sentenced to at least five years in federal prison. Prosecutors cannot guarantee he will receive that much; federal judges are not bound by plea agreements, but they usually accept recommended sentences. Drechsler faced decades in prison after a grand jury indicted him on three child pornography-related counts last May.

The plea agreement imposes a number of other conditions on Drechsler, which the judge is likely to accept: He must register as a sex offender, pay thousands of dollars in fines, commit to making full restitution payments to identified victims of his crime and wear a tracking device. He will also be subject to computer monitoring during a period of post-release supervision, which could last as long as five years after his release from prison.

A federal judge must accept the plea agreement before the case moves to sentencing. A hearing on the agreement is still pending, and no sentencing date has been set.

Drechsler worked as a TV news producer for KNBC (Channel 4) in Los Angeles for more than a decade. He was laid off from the station early last year, according to a social media post reviewed by The Desk.

Before he was laid off, federal officials began investigating Drechsler after linking him to an online group where child pornography was exchanged. Investigators believe Drechsler exchanged more than 117 videos and numerous other files depicting child pornography between August 2020 and June 2021, according to charging documents that were originally filed in his case.

Federal agents executed a search warrant on Drechsler’s Southern California home, where they seized an Apple iPhone that linked him to the group, the charging documents said. A warrant for his arrest was issued a short time later after police learned he left his California home to say goodbye to his daughter in Ohio, where he was eventually apprehended.

Drechsler was extradited back to Southern California and indicted by a federal grand jury last May. Investigators do not believe KNBC was aware of his computer activities, and his former work devices were not examined as part of the case.

As part of the plea agreement, Drechsler will accept responsibility for receiving and distributing four video files that contained child pornography, including two that involved children less than 13 years old. Under the agreement, Drechsler will acknowledge that the materials were illegal, and that the video files showed “real children.”

The case against Drechsler is just one of several involving journalists accused of downloading or distributing illegal sex videos and photos involving children.

Last year, former ABC News journalist James Gordon Meek was arrested on suspicion of downloading and distributing child pornography after a lengthy FBI investigation into his alleged activities. He reached a plea agreement with prosecutors last July and was sentenced to six years in federal prison. Meek is currently incarcerated at a low-security prison in Virginia.

In 2019, Ars Technica reporter Peter Bright was arrested during an FBI sting following an investigation into attempted child sex trafficking. He was convicted the following year and was sentenced to 144 months in federal prison.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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