A former elementary school principal from Cleveland, Tn., has been caught in a child sex sting.
Mark Avery Pickel, 51, made an initial appearance on Wednesday afternoon before Federal Magistrate Judge Chris Steger.
Pickel is charged with transportation of child pornography in interstate commerce, interstate travel with intent to engage in a sexual act with a minor, and coercion and enticement of a minor.
He remains incarcerated and has an arraignment date of Feb. 28.
Prosecutor James Brooks said on Feb. 3 an undercover online officer with the Chattanooga Police Department was alerted that Pickel was operating on the Kik social network platform in a Kik group called "Loving Kids." The local office of the FBI was immediately notified.
The CPD agent began corresponding with Pickel while leading him to believe the agent was a mother with an infant daughter. The agent said Pickel stated he lived very near Chattanooga.
The prosecutor said Pickel, through his online name, said, "Just love little girls." He asked the agent if she played (had sexual contact) with the infant child and when she planned to start.
Pickel also said he had "watched some pretty good cp (child pornography)."
In a post last Friday, Pickel said he had distributed "10-20 pics and vids today" and asked why she did not also distribute child pornography.
Pickel asked if the "woman" was a cop or associated with law enforcement. The agent replied that "she" was not and said she could understand why he "might not want to meet me and Lucy."
Pickel replied, "I want nothing more, just don't want to be ambushed. My kids need their daddy even if he does have different desires."
He said he typically uses mobile phones to engage in this activity rather than computers because it made him feel safer.
The prosecutor said Pickel sent a photo of himself to the undercover agent and it was arranged that they would meet on Tuesday "in a lodging facility in Northern Georgia."
Pickel arrived at 11:30 a.m. and was immediately arrested by waiting agents.
Pickel was assistant principal at Polk County High School July 2004-June 2008 and principal at City Park Elementary School at Athens, Tn., July 2009-2011. He was principal of Vonore Elementary July 2013-June 2014.
He has been a funeral director at funeral homes in Cleveland.