BILLINGS -- A former West High school teacher and girls basketball coach is expected to admit that he used aliases and social networking sites to entice minor girls to send him sexually explicit selfies.
Scott James Nichols, 42, of Billings, reached a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's office. The agreement calls for Nichols to plead guilty to two counts of coercion and enticement, two counts of attempted coercion and enticement and one count of distribution of child porn, alleged to have occurred beginning in 2012.
An initial indictment that charged Nichols with 23 counts will be dismissed at sentencing if the judge accepts the deal. Nichols also agreed to forfeit three computers and a cellphone used to commit the crimes.
Nichols faces up to life in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine on the coercion charges. He is set to appear in court June 24 before U.S. District Judge Susan Watters in Billings.
Ole Olson, special assistant U.S. attorney in Helena, outlined in court records evidence the government would have presented if the case had gone to trial.
An investigation began in January 2013 after a Bozeman police detective got a CyberTip report about a person, using the name “Scott Tucker Simpson” who had used the Internet to solicit explicit images of underage females, Olson said in court records.
Posing as a 16-year-old girl, the detective contacted Simpson on Facebook, and Simpson solicited sexual images from the detective.
The detective executed a search warrant on the Facebook account and learned that the person was soliciting many apparently underage females through various social networking sites, email and a cellphone number.
The detective tracked the cellphone number to Nichols, who at the time was coaching basketball at West High.
The Bozeman detective referred the case to the Billings Police Department.
The investigation found that Nichols was using several online aliases, including, “Scott Tucker Simpson” and “Ashley Perkins,” and posed as a teenage high school student, Olson said.
Facebook pages for both of the aliases had Internet addresses assigned either to the Billings Public Schools or to Nichols’ home address. The aliases also asked underage girls to send sexually explicit images to a cellphone number that was assigned to Nichols.
Information from search warrants on email accounts associated with Nichols showed that his communication with minor girls using his aliases was “voluminous and consistent,” Olson said.
Nichols, he continued, asked the girls their age, if they were alone and told them their profile pictures were arousing him. He then encouraged them to send him sexually explicit images of themselves. He also traded child porn with other people using email.
Law enforcement officers also went to West High where school officials gave them several items found in Nichols’ office, including a black leather case that contained three computers. A search of the computers found “hundreds of videos and images of child pornography,” Olson said.
In one of the coercion counts, Nichols, using the Simpson alias, chatted on Jan. 23, 2013, with a Facebook user who identified herself as being 15. Nichols, who used an Internet address assigned to West High, asked the girl to pull down her panties and send him a picture.
“She sent him a lascivious exhibition of her pubic area,” Olson said.
Police interviewed the girl, who confirmed her age and that she had, in fact, chatted with Nichols. Her testimony would have been presented at a trial, the prosecutor said.
Nichols was placed on administrative leave in May 2013, then let go from School District 2 after law enforcement officers told school officials that Nichols was under investigation for inappropriate use of computers and the Internet.
Nichols had been at West High for less than a year and had come highly recommended by his colleagues in Livingston, where he coached and taught for 15 years. He also had passed an SD2 background check, which is standard for all prospective employees. In Billings, Nichols taught physical education and coached the girls basketball team.
The plea agreement does not identify a specific sentencing recommendation but said prosecutors will recommend Nichols get credit for accepting responsibility. Nichols will be required to register as a sex offender and to have no contact with minor children except when other adults are present, the agreement said.