SANTA ANA (CBS) — A 28-year-old registered sex offender, who recently pleaded guilty in federal court to possession of child porn, admitted Friday in state court that he molested a 5-year-old boy in a shopping mall restroom in Orange.

Nicholas James Needham of Laguna Beach was originally charged in state court with possession of child pornography and touching the boy in a bathroom at the Outlets at Orange, which was then known as the Block at Orange. State prosecutors, however, moved to dismiss the possession of pornography charges in February so federal prosecutors could handle the case.

Punishment under federal law is tougher, said Deputy District Attorney Jess Rodriguez, the original prosecutor. The difference was between months versus years in prison, he added.

Needham was about to go on trial in federal court but he pleaded guilty Oct. 5, according to U.S. Attorney Anne C. Gannon.

Today, Needham pleaded guilty to a felony count of lewd acts on a child younger than 14. The plea bargain with prosecutors will likely sentence Needham to six years in state prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced in state court on March 5.

The federal plea agreement calls for a federal prison term of nine years with supervised release for the rest of his life, Gannon said. Needham is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court Feb. 27.

Needham will be sentenced to six years in the state court case, which will be served concurrently with the federal punishment in a federal prison, said Orange County Deputy District Attorney Whitney Bokosky, who struck the plea bargain with Needham.

Needham admitted that he touched the genitals of the victim, who was going to the bathroom at the shopping mall June 15, 2010, Rodriguez said.

The boy told his mother, who saw the suspect and called police, but by the time the officers arrived, Needham had left the area.

After reviewing store surveillance video, investigators determined the suspect had bought something at a Jamba Juice store and traced the credit card transaction back to Needham, Rodriguez said.

Police searched Needham’s home in July and found about 29,000 photographs and three videos of child pornography on the defendant’s iPod, some of which investigators believe he may have made, Rodriguez said.

At least one video was taken at Main Beach in Laguna Beach, and the youngsters ranged in age from “young teenagers all the way down to infants,” Rodriguez said.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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