A man secretly recorded video of 73 women and girls undressing in a tanning salon by sneaking around in its false ceiling, which he accessed from a vacant neighboring space in the same shopping center, state police said Tuesday.
Jesse Macklin, 28, of Jeannette, was jailed following his arraignment on 242 charges, including burglary, creating obscene materials and invasion of privacy. He faces 110 counts of invasion of privacy alone.
Women and teen girls began suing the Sunkissed Tanning Salon and Spa in East Huntingdon Township late last year after seeing their nude images posted on websites. Those complaints prompted police to investigate, and they identified Macklin from fingerprints he left on plastic bottles found in the ceiling.
Police believe Macklin spent several hours on the six occasions recording salon customers through a hole in the ceiling. There's no evidence he knew anybody at the salon or that he had any help, said trooper Steve Limani, a state police spokesman. There were no firewalls or other obstacles dividing tenant spaces above their false ceilings, so Macklin was able to climb around undetected and set up his video perch, Limani said.
"I believe this is strictly like a voyeur thing," Limani told The Associated Press. "He was trying to find a place where he could do this and everything fell into place for him to do it at this place."
Online court records don't list an attorney for Macklin, and he appeared without an attorney at his arraignment Tuesday afternoon. The Associated Press also could not locate a listed phone for him. He faces a preliminary hearing March 23.
Attorney Mark Brooks, who represents 13 women who have sued the salon, said his clients are embarrassed and humiliated.
"They're all emotionally devastated as a result of what occurred, but they're all very happy that the person that actually filmed them will be brought to justice," Brooks said.
Brooks expects to file lawsuits on behalf of two other women soon and plans to meet with six others who claim they were recorded at the salon.
Brooks said most of the recordings were done in the fall of 2006 or the spring of 2007 and largely involved high school-aged girls and women who were "tanning for prom or related events."
Four of Brooks' clients were minors when they were recorded, the youngest being 15. Police said half the 40 females they positively identified were underage. They were still trying to identify 33 others and encouraged other women to come forward if they believe they were victimized.
The salon's owner, Toni Tomei, has previously denied wrongdoing and said she called police about three years ago when a teen complained that someone secretly recorded or photographed her.
Police said Tuesday that a 17-year-old girl came to them in October 2007 after acquaintances downloaded images of her undressing and shared the images among students at Mount Pleasant High School, where she was a student. The high school and tanning salon are both about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
Police didn't determine the origin of the images then, however, and the matter was dropped until Brooks' clients started to come forward last year, police said.
Police searched the salon and found seven fingerprints on three different plastic bottles that had been left above the salon's false ceiling, and every print matched Macklin, who had been arrested for drunken driving last year.
Tomei, the salon owner, did not immediately return a message left at her business. An employee who declined to give her name told the AP that salon employees were aware of the arrest but none of them knew Macklin.
"Nobody in this whole plaza recognizes him," the employee said.
Brooks is pressing on with the lawsuits because he contends Tomei didn't do enough to prevent the recording. Brooks said evidence suggests the recordings were made through an opening in the ceiling at least six inches wide.
"If you were to walk down the halls and just look at the ceiling I think you could see there was a hole that big," Brooks said.