NEWBURYPORT — A quality control officer at a local electronics company is behind bars today on charges he had inappropriate conversations with and sent obscene images to a girl he believed was 14 years old.

Shortly before 11 a.m. yesterday, Newburyport police executed an arrest warrant on Matthew T. Small at Rochester Electronics on Malcolm Hoyt Drive on charges gathered by a joint investigation involving officials from Connecticut, Newburyport and the Massachusetts State Police.

Small, 48, of 233 Varney Mill Road, Windham, Maine, had been chatting with the girl for the past six to seven months, Inspector Brian Brunault of the Newburyport Police said yesterday. The person he was chatting with was really Detective Ron Blanchard, an undercover Naugatuck, Conn., police officer.

Brunault said Small went so far as to send a camera to the undercover officer so "the girl" could take pictures and send them back.

Small had given his place of employment, type of car he drove and a description of himself to the investigator online. Once Blanchard found Small to be working in Newburyport, he contacted Brunault to help verify his whereabouts.

Yesterday morning, investigators sat at the computer at Newburyport police station waiting for Small to come online while another unit prepared to arrest him at Rochester Electronics.

"We spoke with the owners of Rochester Electronics ahead of time," Brunault said. "They were extremely cooperative and handed everything to us."

Small, a father of two, had been using Yahoo! chat rooms to talk to the officer, Brunault said. Officers from Small's hometown in Maine also put out a warrant yesterday on similar charges of speaking with an undercover Maine officer whom he believed was a child.

State police computer crimes and forensic units seized Small's computer, zip drive, cell phone and car, and Brunault said he is confident other images of children will be found on the computer.

"On the human side, I understand his whole world has been turned upside down," Brunault said, noting Small has a family, the loss of a job and the public to face. "On the same token, it's our job to protect children and while in talking to him, it doesn't seem it was his intent to harm anyone. It doesn't make it any less serious given the time spent on the investigation, the chatting and the attempt to get images. He got caught up in it, but if it was really a 14-year-old girl or boy, who knows what would have happened."

Small was arraigned yesterday in Newbuyport District Court, where he waived rendition to Connecticut, which issued the arrest warrant. Connecticut police have charged Small with 12 counts of criminal attempt to impair the morals of children and one count of criminal attempt to promote a minor in an obscene performance.

Small will be back in Newburyport District Court tomorrow for a status hearing before being sent back to Connecticut to face charges. Brunault said additional complaints may be forthcoming depending on what the state police recover from Small's electronics.

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