Child therapist, state nurse arrested for child porn; ex-juvenile detention boss guilty on similar charges

Law enforcement officials have announced the separate arrests of two men facing child pornography charges. Authorities say one worked for the state as a nurse, and the other as a therapist who worked with children.

The arrests also come within a week of a plea agreement in which the former head of a state-run juvenile detention facility pleaded guilty to child porn charges.

On Friday, state prosecutors said 52-year-old Michael J. Cassista had been indicted on 10 counts of possession of child pornography.

According to the state Department of Health and Social Services, Cassista started working for the state in 2005 as a nurse in Wasilla at the Mat-Su Public Health Center, then became a traveling nurse in 2007 who worked in rural Alaska performing services that included vaccination, immunization and tuberculosis monitoring and testing.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Health Department said the department is not aware of any allegations against Cassista made by current or former clients or employees.

“We encourage any victim of abuse to report their case to law enforcement,” the statement said. “The safety of youth and employees is a top priority.”

Health officials asked anyone with additional information to report it to an Alaska State Trooper investigator at 907-375-7711.

In a separate case, federal authorities said Monday that 53-year-old Anchorage resident Shannon Robert Bell was indicted on charges he possessed and distributed child pornography.

Prosecutors said in a statement that Bell was employed as a clinical therapist at multiple inpatient treatment facilities for children.

Federal authorities say anyone with additional information about Bell should call the FBI at 907-276-4441.

Court records showed both Cassista remained jailed, while Bell had posted bail and been released.

On Wednesday, a former high-ranking official of McLaughlin Youth Center in Anchorage pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to a child pornography charge, in a separate case first reported by the Anchorage Daily News.

The former McLaughlin superintendent, 55-year-old Dennis Weston, faces up to 20 years in prison at his December sentencing.