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Former bank officer pleads guilty to child exploitation

Claude A. Coleman, 46, a former vice president and Pascagoula branch manager with Regions Bank, pleaded guilty to 15 counts of exploitation of a child after thousands of pictures were found on his computer after Jackson County Sheriff's Department raided his house in 2009.

He's been in in jail since his arrest on $850,000 bond.

Prosecutors recommended 40 years in the state penitentiary, 30 to serve and 10 suspended, but sentencing is scheduled for February.

District Attorney Tony Lawrence said it's just the first round with Coleman.

Coleman still faces touching a child for lustful purposes and sexual battery charges in Jackson, George and Lauderdale counties.

"What happened today we felt like is a good result and starts the process of resolving a huge criminal case in our county," said Lawrence.

The pending cases involve local children and have yet to go to court.

Coleman was arrested at his home in the Lamotte subdivision of Gautier, where sheriff's investigators seized his computers and other items in the home. The charges came after a two-month investigation into Coleman that was triggered by a call from the mother of an alleged victim.

She told investigators that she believed Coleman molested her son 10 years before, when they were neighbors of Coleman s. Her son was 13 at the time.

Jackson County sheriff's investigators interviewed witnesses who saw Coleman take children to a fishing camp at Cumbest Bluff.

The charges in Lauderdale County stem from activities at a hunting club near Meridian. Coleman was believed to have been the sole chaperone for boys and young teens on trips to the camps.

Read more about this story in Saturday's Sun herald.