Eric Artrip of the Mastando & Artrip law firm presented a check to the National Children’s Advocacy Center for $50,000.

By Paul Gattis |
Years later, amid the darkness of a lawsuit over secretly videoing children in a dressing room at a Huntsville dance studio, a ray of light emerged.

It emerged on a sunny Wednesday morning in a ceremony that took just three minutes. And it emerged with the intent of making life safer for abused children.

Huntsville attorney Eric Artrip of the Mastando & Artrip law firm presented a check to the National Children’s Advocacy Center for $50,000 that Artrip said was remaining from the settlement of a lawsuit against the janitor who installed the video cameras and the janitor’s company.

The incident occurred in 2014 at Ann’s Dance Studio. The janitor, Jeremy Joseph Nelson, was sentenced to 140 years in federal prison in 2015 after pleading guilty to four counts of sexual exploitation of a child, two counts of possession of child pornography and one count of distribution of child pornography. Nelson had placed hidden cameras in at least two other Huntsville businesses as well.

A 2016 class action lawsuit against Nelson along with the company that hired him, Sanitary Systems, and owner James Starkey ended with an out-of-court settlement in 2019, according to court records.

“What happened is we were able to identify almost all of the children with their parents and get some of the money that resulted from that case to them,” Artrip said. “When we couldn’t find some of them, we went back again and were able to find some more. But ultimately, there was some money left over. That money doesn’t belong to us. But the people responsible shouldn’t be allowed to keep it either.

“So we were looking for a way to get that money to an organization that we felt would be in keeping with the spirit of the case. And that obviously was the National Children’s Advocacy Center.”

The NCAC is a renowned worldwide program that began in Huntsville in 1985 that is the model program for more than 1,100 child advocacy centers operating across the country and in 41 countries. It offers a welcoming environment for children who are victims of abuse and shares information with prosecutors.

The NCAC was founded by then-Madison County District Attorney Bud Cramer, who went on to serve almost two decades in Congress.

NCAC Executive Director Chris Newlin said the money was especially welcomed given that funding for the center has been cut in recent years.

“This is particularly timely because we have experienced some reductions in funding that support our direct services of child abuse victims — therapy, medical exams, forensic interviews, victim advocacy,” Newlin said. “Over the last three years, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs has experienced federal funding cuts. It’s led to more than 10 percent reductions in funding for those sorts of direct services that we provide. This funding will help supplement that and it will continue to support victims in this community who have experienced some type of child abuse. So we’re honored, we’re humbled to be able to receive this donation here and I promise you will put it to good use.”

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