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Gear will be returned

Photographer’s business has been struggling since arrest because of confiscated equipment, defendant’s attorney says.

January 08, 2009|By Joseph Serna

Police will have to return computers, hard drives and CDs they seized from a famous Newport Beach fitness photographer after they arrested him on suspicion of having sex with a 15-year-old girl with the help of his fiancee, a judge ordered Thursday.

Jason Ellis was arrested last summer by Newport Beach police after a private investigator and a family member of the 15-year-old girl turned over evidence that Ellis was having an inappropriate relationship with her, police said.

Prosecutors said between August 2007 and June 2008 Ellis had taken the girl, between 14 and 15 years old during that time, on dates and had participated in public displays of affection. He also had sex with her with the aid of his fiancee, Michelle Hecker, 32, prosecutors allege.

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Ellis, 33, is a renowned fitness photographer who has had shots used in Calvin Klein ads and featured on the cover of Health and Fitness magazine and FHM, among others.

After his arrest, police seized all of his computers and CDs — anything that investigators suspected could contain evidence — prosecutors said.

Six months later, police have yet to return the equipment, said Ellis’ attorney, Ronald Brower.

Brower said his client’s business has been struggling since his arrest, particularly because he doesn’t have the expensive equipment he needs for his photographs. Prosecutors said there were more than three terabytes, or 3,000 gigabytes, worth of photographs and files on Ellis’ computers and that’s why it’s taken so long to return them.

Some of the photos appeared to be legitimate modeling photos of the 15-year-old, prosecutors said.

Police will have to give Ellis copies of his hard drives and CDs within seven days of his providing them blanks to put data on, which should happen Monday, Brower said.

According to prosecutors, Ellis met the girl through Hecker. Hecker and the girl, then 14, met while horseback riding where the girl mentioned she wanted to model. Ellis groomed her for sex with promises of jump-starting her modeling career.

Throughout the relationship Hecker would allegedly pick up and drop off the girl from her home so her parents wouldn’t grow suspicious.

Another relative grew suspicious, however, authorities said, and that eventually led to the hiring of a private investigator to tail Ellis and the girl and turn over video evidence to the authorities.

Hecker also faces charges. The two face seven years each if convicted of all charges. They will be back in court Feb. 3 for a preliminary hearing.


JOSEPH SERNA may be reached at (714) 966-4619 or at joseph.serna@latimes.com.

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