Kidnapping suspect faces federal charges

Rick Pfeiffer, Niagara Gazette, Niagara Falls, N.Y.
·4 min read

Mar. 3—BUFFALO — A Depew man who has already pleaded guilty to Pennsylvania state charges in connection with the alleged kidnapping of a North Tonawanda teen, and who faces local rape and criminal sex act counts, was arraigned Tuesday on a federal criminal complaint.

The complaint charges Michael Mesko, 50, with enticement of a minor and production of child sexual abuse material. The charges carry a minimum penalty of 15 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life behind bars.

Mesko pleaded not guilty to the charges. He is being held without bail pending a detention hearing on Thursday.

He had been held at the Venango County (Pennsylvania) prison after his arrest by Pennsylvania State Police when they encountered him on Feb. 16 at a rest stop just off Interstate 80 near Harrisville, Pennsylvania. Mesko had been the subject of a multi-state Amber Alert, issued the previous night by North Tonawanda police.

During a preliminary hearing on Feb. 24, in Venango County Court, Mesko pleaded guilty to charges of possession of a controlled substance and criminal mischief. Prosecutors withdrew seven other charges, including counts of endangering welfare of children, use or possession of drug paraphernalia, recklessly endangering another person, resisting arrest, fleeing or attempting to elude an officer and driving at an unsafe speed.

Court records did not indicate if Mesko had been sentenced for his guilty pleas or what potential sentences he may have faced. But Pennsylvania authorities continued to hold him in custody on what were described as "a pair of criminal detainers," from the U.S. Marshals Service and Niagara County District Attorney's Office.

U.S. Marshals returned Mesko to Buffalo for his arraignment in U.S. District Court on Tuesday.

North Tonawanda Police detectives said at that time of the Amber Alert that they were working with agents from the Buffalo field office of the FBI to investigate the abduction of a 17-year-old girl. But agents assigned to the FBI's Child Exploitation Task Force first began looking into Mesko's actions after NTPD detectives arrested him Feb. 4 on claims that he had been engaging in repeated sexual acts with the teenage kidnapping victim.

Mesko was arraigned in North Tonawanda City Court on charges of second-degree rape and second-degree criminal sex. He was released from custody on Feb. 10 after Niagara County prosecutors declined to conduct a preliminary hearing in the case.

Niagara County District Attorney Brian Seaman said in a statement that decision stemmed from a NT City Court judge's earlier ruling to only set bail in the case at $1,000.

Seaman has since told the Gazette that his office has filed a motion in North Tonawanda City Court asking for an increase in bail for Mesko. The DA also said his office is preparing to file additional charges against Mesko.

In an affidavit, submitted with the federal criminal complaint against Mesko, a Child Exploitation Task Force officer said that Mesko first began communicating with the 17-year-old victim in October, using social media applications, including Snapchat and TextNow.

According to the affidavit, Mesko convinced his victim to send him naked pictures and enticed her into engaging in sexual contact. Investigators conducted a search of the victim's iPad and discovered explicit and disturbing conversations between Mesko and the teen.

"This defendant callously took advantage of a vulnerable young victim, not only engaging in repeated sexual acts but also the production of child pornography, impacting the life of the victim forever," U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York James P. Kennedy said after Mesko's arraignment. "Let this serve as a warning to other would be predators, you will be caught and you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

In the Amber Alert, detectives said the victim had been picked up near 908 Niagara Falls Blvd. at about 7 p.m. Feb. 15 and that "it became evident that (she) did get into a car owned by Michael Mesko whom she had a full stay away order of protection against."

In an interview with NTPD detectives, Mesko admitted to having consensual sex with the victim on "numerous occasions." He also told investigators that the teen was "aware of the police investigation (of him) and that he biggest fear is him going to jail."

Mesko is described in the federal affidavit as "a nurse," but there is no information on where he may have worked.

The teen, who was with Mesko when he was taken into custody in Pennsylvania, was not harmed. She has been returned to her home in Western New York.