A former Florida public high school teacher was sentenced to 15 years in prison Monday for recording nude videos of 124 students and one teacher as they were changing clothes in his classroom, numerous sources reported.
Mark William Ackett, 52, will also be registered as a sex offender for the rest of his life after he pleaded guilty to 324 counts of video voyeurism, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
— HeatherLeighWFTS (@HLeighWFTS) May 10, 2021
Breaking News: The judge has sentenced former Bloomingdale High teacher Mark Ackett, 52, to 15 years in prison. The convicted video voyeur was facing up to life in prison for secretly recording 125 victims as they undress in his classroom. @BN9 pic.twitter.com/Xw4oYzB0sw
— Josh Rojas (@JoshRojasBN9) May 10, 2021
Ackett was a fashion design teacher at Bloomingdale High School, a part of Hillsborough County Public Schools, and a girl’s track coach. He picked up those positions in 2017, which was when he returned to the school after previously serving as its assistant principal, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Eva Applebee, who worked with Ackett for 12 years, was his only adult victim. She shared a classroom with him, and reportedly told the court she felt like she had been punched in the stomach when she found out there were cameras in the classroom, which students call the “room of horrors.” (RELATED: Police Charge School Custodian After He Allegedly Hid In Ceiling To Film Girls Changing In Bathroom)
“What Mark did was not an isolated lapse of judgement but calculated and deliberate criminal acts,” Applebee said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “Mark groomed and chose his victims — gaining their trust and then taking advantage of them.”
After returning to the school in January 2017, Ackett collected hundreds of nude and partially-nude videos of students. Applebee said a 17-year-old fashion design student made the discovery of the camera while she was changing clothes in the classroom and noticed a light poking out of a box on a shelf.
The students found a cell phone inside, and then a second cell phone. She reported the discovery to the school’s principal, who notified the county sheriff’s office, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
ARRESTED: Mark Ackett, 49, a fashion design teacher at Bloomingdale High School, is facing a video voyeurism charge for recording a student undressing at school. We want to know if there are more victims. Anyone with info, call the Hillsborough Co Sheriff’s Office at 813-247-8200 pic.twitter.com/vz9lNus9pt
— HCSO (@HCSOSheriff) September 12, 2018
Ackett pleaded guilty to 324 counts of video voyeurism, which prosecutors noted equals a sentence of roughly 366 years in state prison under Florida law. Ackett admitted to deputies he had been recording students since January 2017.
Ackett’s defense attorneys asked for a maximum of three years in prison and time on probation, citing Ackett’s “voyeuristic disorder,” which a cognitive behavioral therapist reportedly said developed from childhood trauma.
Ruben Drake, the therapist, said Ackett’s fantasies were triggered by the thrill of secretly watching the students, and that he wasn’t a pedophile or threat to the community, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“It’s a mental disorder and it can be treated,” Drake reportedly said, adding that Ackett felt “overwhelming” remorse for his actions.
Some people spoke of Ackett as a good coach, Sunday school teacher and neighbor, according to the Tampa Bay Times. His wife of nearly 30 years begged the judge to be lenient in the sentencing, but some victims said anything less than life in prison would be a “free pass.”
One victim, who was 12 when she began attending Bible studies at Ackett’s home, said Ackett needs “nothing less than the maximum sentence” for what he did.
“I hope you can get the help you need, because you need help, and I hope that one day I can see you in heaven,” she said according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Another victim said she showers while sitting on the ground in her clothes until she can “build up enough courage to undress” after she identified herself in 18 different videos that Ackett recorded.
Ackett said he wished he could make amends for his actions, but he knew that was impossible.
“Some of you confided in me your fears and problems, and many of you consider my classroom a safe place to escape the problems that you face,” he reportedly told the court. “I will never forgive myself for turning something that should have been a fond memory for you into something that you would rather forget.”
Applebee said Ackett was an excellent actor, having fooled everyone for years.
“Acting like he cared, like he respected us. But instead we found out it was a big act,” she reportedly said.