Update: This story has been updated with a comment from Tompkins County District Attorney Matt Van Houten.
ITHACA, N.Y.—An Ithaca man appeared in federal court last week regarding charges that he sexually abused and exploited a child in 2019.
Remanu Phillips, 31 years old, was first arrested in October 2019 by the Tompkins County Sheriffs Office after allegations that he had sexual contact with a child under 11 years old, reported by the victim’s mother. He subsequently pled guilty to a charge of felony sexual abuse in February 2020 and was sentenced to six months of incarceration for the charges—far shorter than what the prosecution had sought during the trial.
Now, however, Phillips is facing additional charges because he allegedly made three sexually explicit videos of him abusing the child in June 2019 which were just discovered earlier this year, after Phillips had been released from incarceration. If convicted of the charges, Philips would face a mandatory minimum of 15 years and up to 30 years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000 and at least five years of supervised release, plus a requirement to register as a sex offender. Phillips is being detained until his trial, upon order of a federal judge.
“The DA’s office is gratified to see federal charges brought based on new evidence,” read a statement from Tompkins County District Attorney Matt Van Houten. “We pushed for a harsher sentence in 2020 and were disappointed by the outcome.”
Phillips, a formerly well-regarded local musician who performed under the names “Remanu Panther” and “Remanu Steele,” was an IT employee of New Roots Charter School at the time, and the videos of the abuse were found on his work computer. Federal investigators say New Roots Charter School’s Principal, Tina Nilsen-Hodges, gave police a Dell laptop and Apple All-In-One computer in November 2019, both of which were owned by the school but used by Phillips while he worked there. Nilsen-Hodges has previously stated that the victim was not a student at New Roots Charter School when the abuse took place.
A forensic analysis of the computer, not completed by state police until February 2021, showed the three videos. Phillips had deleted all three of them but they were retrieved, found in the “trash” folder under his username. The videos display the abuse.
The announcement was made last week by United States Attorney Carla B. Freedman, Janeen DiGuiseppi, Special Agent in Charge of the Albany Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and New York State Police (NYSP) Superintendent Kevin P. Bruen.