A San Francisco radio host billed by his station as the “Lion of the Left” was sentenced yesterday to seven years of prison on a charge of e-mailing images of child pornography.
Bernie Ward, a former Catholic priest who is now married with four children, hosted a Sunday radio program called “God Talk” on San Francisco-area radio station KGO-AM 810 and another program on weeknights devoted to news and politics. According to several reports, Ward earned his “Lion of the Left” nickname for his outspoken and staunchly liberal viewpoints.
Ward came under FBI investigation last year after a woman with whom he exchanged sexually explicit Internet messages called police, reporting that Ward had sent her a photograph of children engaged in a sex act.
Bay Area television station KTVU-TV reported the FBI used 19 transcribed pages of Ward’s conversation with the woman and a search of Ward’s computer records in their investigation, leading to the discovery of dozens of child pornography photos. The Associated Press reported some of the images were of children as young as three, while others portrayed masochistic scenes of children bound and gagged. The transcripts also revealed that Ward confessed being sexually aroused by his own children.
Doron Weinberg, Ward’s attorney, told KTVU that though his client claims innocence, arguing the images and Internet chat were part of journalistic research, Ward knew that the evidence against him was too condemning to drag his family through a prolonged trial.
Ward “is not a sexual predator,” Weinberg told reporters, insisting “Bernie Ward is a good man.”
Speaking of Ward’s supposed research into child pornography, however, Weinberg did admit, “It’s clear that it ended in a dark place.”
According to KTVU, a federal judge dismissed two other charges against Ward as part of a plea deal in which Ward admitted to sending the images over the Internet, a federal crime that carries a mandatory minimum five-year sentence.
U.S District Court Judge Vaught Walker, however, sentenced Ward to seven years and three months, stating before issuing the sentence, “I find it extremely troubling that a parent would say the things he wrote in those messages.”
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Justice Department lawyer Steven Grocki told the court, “This is not an aberration. … This is recurrent behavior.” Grocki also said that Ward “traded in the currency of human suffering” and that child pornography victims “are exploited again and again” when their photos are distributed on the Internet.
Ward holds a master’s degree in theology, reports the Chronicle, and spent two years in the Roman Catholic priesthood before leaving to get married. He then worked as a legislative assistant for then-Rep. Barbara Boxer, now California’s junior Democratic senator.
Ward joined KGO radio as a reporter in 1985 and began hosting a talk show on the same station in 1992.
According to the Chronicle, Ward will serve his sentence in the minimum-security prison in Santa Barbara County and could have his jail time reduced by about a year for good behavior.