September 1, 2004

Sex, Lies, Videotape: New Twists in Landlord Scandal

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In the last decade, David A. Church, the landlord arrested last week for secretly recording his female tenants in the bathrooms of their apartments, has been to court at least twice for crimes of a sexual nature against women.

At some point last year, during the course of a relationship with a married woman, Church videotaped a sexual encounter involving himself, the woman and another female, who was a TV newscaster. Legal action was taken after he threatened to distribute the video, according to several sources.

In 1995, Church threatened to distribute naked photographs of a former girlfriend. The girlfriend and her roommate contacted the police, and Church was prosecuted for aggravated harassment and harassment, according to court documents obtained by The Sun.

Church served 40 days of a 60-day sentence in the Tompkins County Jail in 1997. He was prohibited by a three-year restraining order from “contact of any kind” with former girlfriend and her roommate.

In a little over a month, Church made contact with the former girlfriend at least 18 times, repeatedly threatening to send nude photographs to co-workers, clients and her grandmother, according to court documents. The victim claimed he was visibly intoxicated on two occasions, that he was physically menacing and that he demanded money and possessions that he claimed she owed him.

Police investigating the current case say that there is “no indication at this point” that Church distributed video collected from tenants’ bathrooms on the Internet, Lt. Timothy Williams of the Ithaca Police Department told The Sun on Monday.

The cameras used were both one inch by one inch with a lens smaller than a dime, readily available on the Internet, according to Williams.

At the 404 University Ave. apartment, a tenant discovered the camera drilled into the wood trim on the side of the bathroom wall. At 108 East Yates St., the police found a similar camera hidden inside a AM/FM clock radio that Church had left in the bathroom.

“If [students] have any doubt in their minds or if they have any questions, we are available to search their apartment for any devices,” Williams said.

Church has already confessed to the unlawful surveillance charges twice. On Aug. 25 at approximately 1:30 a.m. Church told the police, “I fucked up. There’s no excuse.” He later admitted to hiding two cameras in the bathrooms of apartments he owns at 404 University Ave. and 108 East Yates St.

“This is the one that’s probably gonna get me in the most trouble. … I had to go down there to fix a woman’s bathroom. She came in and asked me if I could stop so she could take a shower real quick. I said okay, and just put the mini Sony camera on the cabinet, right out in the open. She never saw it,” Church told the police, according to the police report. He was referring to his actions in a fourth and as yet, unidentified, bathroom.

Later, he confessed to Mary Gutenberger, a building partner at 301 College Ave., which police have searched and reported finding no cameras. Gutenberger knew Church since he began contracting to do work at the building in 1990.

“What am I looking for in my building?” Gutenberger recalls asking him.

“Nothing,” he said, according to Gutenberger. “I don’t know why I did it,” Church told Gutenberger.

“He seemed extremely remorseful,” Gutenberger said.

Despite the lack of cameras found in the apartment building, Gutenberger said that this has been “very uncomfortable for everyone.” She indicated that all of the buildings’ locks will be changed.

The ten victims from both Ithaca College and Cornell University met yesterday with Lt. Williams to hear an update on the investigation.They also met with Gannett Health Center employee and victims advocate Nina Cummings, Kent Hubbell, Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students and Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president of student and academic services.

Police have also conducted a search of 513 N. Cayuga St., a Hill Drug Store owned by Reeder Gates. Church, 44, a long time acquaintance of Gates’s, lives above 307 College Ave., also a Hill Drug Store.

Church will be arraigned today at 9:30 a.m. in the Ithaca City Court House.

Sun staff writer Chris Mitchell contributed to this report.

Archived article by Peter Norlander
Sun Senior Editor