GOP calls for Cohen to resign amid child porn probe

July 25, 2008 1:04:51 PM PDT
A leading Republican Friday said Democratic Assemblyman Neil Cohen should resign and be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law if allegations he possessed child pornography are true. Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, R-Morris, said the allegations, if proven, "represent one of the most deplorable acts committed by a public servant."

"One of our most important obligations as a society is to protect those who are most vulnerable, particularly our youth," DeCroce said. "To prey on those who are essentially defenseless is contemptible."

He noted Cohen took an oath to uphold the state Constitution and laws.

"And if he has violated that oath, not only must he resign from office, but he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," DeCroce said.

Legislative officials, meanwhile, are considering installing software on state computers to block pornography after state investigators seized computers from Cohen.

Albert Porroni, state Office of Legislative Services executive director, said legislative computers don't currently block such Web sites.

"It's a very specialized kind of thing and it has to be dealt with carefully so that you don't block a site that you've got to do legitimate research on," Porroni said. "But nonetheless, we are going to address it."

Democratic Legislative leaders may issue a statement Friday.

The state Attorney General's office on Wednesday seized computers from Cohen after staffers in his Union County office discovered the images, then told Sen. Raymond Lesniak and Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, who share Cohen's district office.

Cryan said they then told state legislative officials, who notified the Attorney General's office.

Cohen hasn't been charged.

Lee Moore, spokesman for Attorney General Anne Milgram, said the office had no comment. The U.S. Attorney's Office also declined to comment.

Cohen, 57, a Democrat from Roselle, hasn't answered calls to his cell phone nor responded to text messages. He's been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment.

A man at Cohen, Cryan and Lesniak's Union Township district office declined to comment. The office seemed largely empty.

Rosa Sanchez, who works at a bakery across the street, said Cohen regularly came in for coffee.

"We never saw anything strange," Sanchez said. "We're really surprised that it happened. It's a shame if it's true."

Cohen served in the Assembly from 1990-91 and from 1994 to present.

Cohen, who is single, practices law in a Montclair office he shares with Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex. Gill didn't immediately respond to messages at her law and legislative offices.

Dr. Tod W. Burke, a criminal justice professor at Radford University in Virginia and a former Maryland police officer, wasn't directly knowledgeable about the Cohen case, but said generally someone addicted to Internet pornography is no different than someone addicted to alcohol and drugs. He said it also doesn't matter whether someone holds an important position.

"Sometimes those who develop programs or create legislation have greater knowledge concerning the issue at hand," he said.

"As a result, the person gets a bit sloppy assuming that he or she will not get caught. After all, who better to know their way around the system than the person who is a part of the system?"

--- Associated Press writer Samantha Henry in Union Township and Montclair contributed to this report.

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