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Coach posts bail as investigation continues

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Beth Winegarner
Daily News Staff Writer
January 5, 2006

A San Carlos athletic teacher accused of secretly videotaping female students was released on $600,000 bail early yesterday as police investigators continued to comb through his computers for more evidence.

Neal Sato, 34, was arrested Tuesday and had posted bail by 1:45 a.m. Wednesday, according to media reports. The San Bruno resident was taken into custody by San Carlos Police, who believe he was secretly filming students while they changed clothes at Central Middle School, where he worked as athletic director.

Reached at home yesterday, Sato refused to comment on the situation surrounding his arrest.

It is unusual for a suspect to post bail so quickly, according to deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. “That doesn’t happen too often in this business. It was a sizable bail bond.”

Police began investigating Sato’s activity Nov. 23 after a student came forward and said she thought he might have videotaped her while she undressed. “She could see the video camera,” according to San Carlos Police Cmdr. Sandra Spagnoli.

Sato allegedly picked specific students to change clothes in a room where he had staged cameras, according to Spagnoli. Police confiscated four of his computers and have already found 100 files containing images and video footage, some dating back to October of 2004.

Since Sato’s arrest, police have received dozens of calls from parents and students, some of whom were asked to change in a separate room, according to Spagnoli.

“We’re getting people who are saying, “I changed in that office,” so we’re looking at those kids first,” Spagnoli said.

He was arrested on six counts of lewd conduct, one for each student identified. If charged and convicted he could face at least 18 years in prison, eight years for the first count and two years for each additional count, according to Wagstaffe.

Police are working to identify the other girls depicted in those computer files, primarily by comparing their images with yearbook photos. As more are identified, the counts against Sato are likely to increase, according to police.

Sato also worked at Abbott Middle School in San Mateo, but so far all the girls who have been identified are current or former Central Middle School students, police said.

By the end of this week, investigators expect to be finished analyzing three computers seized in November. Another computer, seized Tuesday, will take some weeks to examine.

“There’s so much more work to do. We have a lot of videos to view and a lot of young girls to identify,” Spagnoli said.

Administrators at Central Middle School and at the San Carlos School District did not return calls for comment yesterday.

Sato is slated to appear in court Feb. 9 for his initial arraignment.

This article originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily News

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Written by Beth Winegarner

January 5, 2006 at 9:43 PM

Posted in Crime, San Carlos

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