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Ex-magic shop owner gets 54 years in molestation case

Former magician Neil Stammer was sentenced to 54 years in prison Wednesday in a child molestation case. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Former magician Neil Stammer was sentenced to 54 years in prison Wednesday in a child molestation case. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Neil Stammer, who spent 14 years in Nepal under a different name before his 2014 arrest by the FBI, was sentenced Wednesday to 54 years in prison for child abuse that took place in 1999.

Stammer was convicted at trial late last year on four felony counts related to one victim, a boy 12 years old at the time, including two counts each of criminal sexual penetration and kidnapping.

He was acquitted in a separate, later trial of similar charges related to another child and faces a third trial before a different judge on counts involving a third alleged victim.

Deputy District Attorney Lisa Trabaudo asked 2nd Judicial District Judge Stan Whitaker to impose all four mandatory 18-year sentences consecutive to one another, a request that Stammer’s lawyer Scott Wisniewski said had “no rational basis” because his client had not been proved a serial predator as the prosecution portrayed him.

Where Trabaudo urged 76 years in custody, Wisniewski said his client had been a model prisoner during his two years at the Metropolitan Detention Center and asked for all counts to run at the same time, for an 18-year total.

Because the case was charged before the Legislature enacted the serious violent offender statute, he’s eligible for up to 50 percent good time instead of having to serve 85 percent. But Stammer just turned 49 years old.

Whitaker recommended sex-offender treatment while Stammer is in prison, probably at a separate unit of the prison in Otero County.

There were complications with Stammer’s original charges in May 1999, which led then-District Judge James Blackmer to dismiss the indictment in April 2000.

The case was reindicted later in 2000, nearly a year after he was initially arrested. When Stammer failed to show up for his arraignment, the FBI filed a federal fugitive warrant against the onetime Nob Hill juggling and magic shop owner.

Stammer had closed his business and left Albuquerque in the interim.

Trabaudo told Whitaker that Stammer had devoted time to “grooming” the now-29-year-old victim, C.S., who testified at trial, and the abuse progressed from kissing to oral sex and locking the boy in the shop.

She said he had fled to avoid prosecution – Wisniewski said it was because publicity about the arrest had driven him out of business – and that Stammer had stolen the identity of a deceased child in Iowa after doing a great deal of research on disappearing. He settled in Nepal, which has no extradition treaty with the United States.

But authorities there who learned his true identity were more than willing to cooperate, and after they arrested and held him, the FBI came in. Trabaudo said Stammer told FBI agents he’d read several books on how to create a new identity.

Stammer was located after Russ Wilson, an FBI agent who worked as fugitive coordinator in the Albuquerque office, put out a new wanted poster for him in January 2014 and an agent with the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Services used facial recognition software designed to pick up passport fraud. Stammer, under his adopted name, was identified. He’d been teaching languages, among other jobs.

Still pending is a 2014 federal indictment charging passport fraud in the Southern District of Iowa.

Trabaudo, who ends a 26½-year career in the Crimes Against Children division this week, said that time and again during jury selection in child abuse cases, prospective jurors reveal “amazing stories” of events they lacked courage to report or that they reported with no consequences for the perpetrator.

She read aloud a letter from victim C.S. in which he said the “opportunity to face my attacker has been one of the most inspiring events of my life.” He said he felt blessed to have received a favorable verdict and asked the court, “Please keep him away from youth for as long as possible.”