TAMPA, Fla. (WTXL) — A Florida teacher was sentenced to 15 years in prison for secretly recording students as they changed clothes in his fashion design classroom.
Mark William Ackett also must remain on sex offender status for the rest of his life.
The 52-year-old Ackett read an apology, bowed his head and occasionally met the gaze of former students at his sentencing Monday in a Tampa courtroom where he pleaded guilty to 324 counts of video voyeurism.
His friends, fellow church members, neighbors and his wife of nearly 30 years asked Hillsborough County Judge Laura Ward for leniency. His lawyers had asked for no more than three years plus probation.
The counts represent all 125 of Mark Ackett’s victims from Bloomingdale High School in Valrico — 124 students and one adult employee of the school.
Ackett also pleaded guilty to 27 counts from an unrelated video voyeurism case not connected to his teaching position.
Officials say these charges were discovered by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office on devices seized from Ackett. While not connected to the school, 13 of these instances involved victims under the age of 16. Those 13 counts are second-degree felonies; the other 14 are third-degree felonies.
Ackett took the stand Monday to apologize to his victims.
“I will never forgive myself for turning something that should have been a fond memory for you, into something you would rather forget," he said.
Ackett has been an educator for the last 30 years — he says it wasn’t until his last year he decided to risk it all by making a very bad decision. He told the judge he’s sorry for many things, but not the fact that he was caught.
“I simply was not strong enough. I would lie awake some nights drowning in guilt wondering how I was going to stop but the answer that I couldn’t seem to find at the time is that I should have asked for help," he said.
Immediately following his statement, Ackett sat down next to his lawyer and cried.
Mr. Ruben Drake, the man treating Ackett, says he suffers from Voyeuristic disorder. He says that's an addiction to video voyeurism, which can also be viewed as obsessive-compulsive, according to Drake.
He does not believe Ackett is a future threat he also says he resisted seeking help out of fear.
“He’s had his moments where he thought, 'I need help,' but where’s he going to get help? Does he look it up online, 'where do I go for voyeuristic disorder?'”
Under the law, Ackett faces a maximum of 15 years in prison for each second-degree felony and up to five years for each third-degree felony. The actual sentencing will be determined by the judge, who can also decide whether some or all of the sentences will run concurrently (at the same time) or consecutively (back-to-back).
Several of the young women Ackett recorded spoke in court Monday to tell him how his actions impacted them.
“Dear Mr. Mark William Ackett, the man who has caused me so much pain, left me feeling so empty inside, made me question my worth in this world, and violated my trust, even though this was two years ago, I will forever feel the pain and mistrust from you," one young lady said.
“People like him do not change and they do not get better," said another. "Even though he didn’t cause physical harm, he caused everlasting emotional distress.”
At least one victim submitted an impact statement that was read out loud by the state.
Authorities began investigating Mark Ackett, 52, in 2018 after being notified by Bloomingdale Senior High School administration that a student located two cellphones concealed inside the fashion design class changing room.
The sheriff's department said one of the phones was actively recording when it was found. After his arrest, the sheriff's department said Ackett admitted to secretly recording his students' undressing when he started working at the school more than a year before.
The mother of one woman told the court, “Ackett violated my daughter by visually raping her. And by recording those images, subjecting my daughter to be violated by all others that viewed those images.”
Ackett was a family consumer science teacher within the fashion design program at the Valrico school. He was also the girl's track team coach.
A month after his initial arrest in September 2018 for one count of video voyeurism, Ackett was charged with an additional 353 charges related to the secret recordings. He received an additional 311 charges in February 2019.
Authorities discovered hundreds of videos during their investigation that showed girls ranging from 14 to 18 years old in various stages of undress.
The sheriff's department said Ackett could be seen on several videos placing, hiding, and removing the recording devices.
This story was originally published by WFTS.