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Breaking News FEDS BUST LOS ALAMOS YOUTH MINISTER ON CHILD PORN CHARGES; Update: Video added to story

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By The Staff

The arraignment Thursday of a Los Alamos youth minister on child pornography charges has sent shock waves rippling through this close-knit community. The minister and former teacher was apprehended June 23 at his residence in White Rock by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents.

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The arrest of Matthew Nichols, 58, came just a day after a federal grand jury indicted him on child pornography charges, including distributing and attempting to distribute, receiving, and possessing child pornography.

Information contained in the indictment indicates Nichols has prior convictions in Pennsylvania for corrupting minors and criminal solicitation (to commit involuntary, deviate sexual intercourse).

At the time of the crimes alleged in the indictment, Nichols was the youth minister of Bethlehem Evangelical Luther Church in Los Alamos. He was previously employed as a science teacher and coach at McCurdy Middle School in Española, N.M. He was also a teacher at Steele Valley High School in Munhall, Pa.

The Nichols investigation stems from a tip received in October 2009 from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about an email address that had been used to transmit child pornography which was traced to Nichols' home and Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church. The New Mexico Attorney General's Office, the New Mexico State Police and FBI assisted ICE in the case.

Church officials said that Nichols has been on paid administrative leave since January. ICE agents confiscated computers at the church Dec. 29 of last year and told church leaders that the youth minister was the subject of an investigation. Nichols has worked at the church since 2003.

If convicted, Nichols faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and a lifetime of supervised release and a $250,000 fine for distributing and possessing child pornography. He also faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a lifetime of supervised release and a $250,000 fine for each of three counts of possessing a visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. He remains in federal custody pending a detention hearing set for June 25.

An indictment is only an accusation. All criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Anyone with any information relating to Nichols or the crimes charged in the indictment is asked to call New Mexico Attorney General's Office Special Agent Anthony Maez at (505) 222-9161.

A video interview with a church official is posted below. Check back here for further details on this developing story, and be sure to pick up a copy of Friday's Los Alamos Monitor for the rest of the story.