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Ex-‘Survivor’ star gets up to 4 years for child porn

Holly Fournier
DetroitNews-Unknown

Former “Survivor” TV show contestant Michael Skupin will spend up to four years in prison on child pornography possession charges.

Skupin, 54, of White Lake Township was convicted Nov. 18 on four of six counts of possession following a two-day trial. An Oakland County jury of eight women and four men deliberated only two and a half hours before returning their verdict.

Former “Survivor” TV show contestant Michael Skupin is expected to be sentenced Tuesday after he was was found guilty last month of possession of child pornography.

The sentence of 1 to 4 years in prison fell just over the guideline of under four years for a first offense conviction relating to child sexually abusive material.

"The court is exceeding the advisory guidelines somewhat because of ... the method of the trial," Oakland County 6th Circuit Judge Wendy Potts said, referring to the defense's strategy last month of "casting suspicion" on Skupin's 17-year-old stepchild. "But most particularly (Skupin's) statement, the building up of yourself and your good works, which the court finds offensive in view of the children who have been exploited."

The felony charges resulted from a state investigation earlier this year into a Ponzi-style investment scheme, “Pay It Forward,” which he operated in Oakland County. Skupin pleaded no contest Nov. 21 to a larceny offense connected to that scheme and was ordered to make restitution. He initially was charged with six counts of larceny and racketeering but all other charges were dropped as part of the plea.

On Tuesday, Judge Potts formalized a sentence of four years probation on the larceny charge to go along with $31,800 in restitution. Skupin also received eight days in jail with credit for all eight days.

As part of his sentences, Skupin must join the Sex Offender Registry, comply with drug and alcohol treatment plans, and refrain from using the internet except for work purposes. He may visit his minor children under supervision of family court.

Prior to sentencing, Skupin asked the court for mercy and denied blaming his stepson for downloading the images.

"I see all of this as very serious and I think that this is a very serious case," he said. "I never, ever said who, what, when, where or how these pictures were on there or viewed. I just maintained that I didn’t do it."

Attorney General Bill Schuette placed the blame back on Skupin in a statement released shortly after sentencing.

"Today's sentencing is a strong message to those who prey on children: No matter who you are or what you do, we will find you," he said. "The act of downloading and viewing images of children in sexually abusive situations is reprehensible; this behavior re-victimizes the child victims over and over." 

The images were discovered after special agents from Schuette's office raided two White Lake Township addresses where Skupin resided or kept property. They seized two laptop computers that were found to contain photo images of minors involved in sexual acts.

Skupin’s investment charges involve defrauding numerous people of thousands of dollars in a Ponzi scheme, in which earlier investors are paid off from funds obtained by later investors until the scheme eventually collapses. 

Skupin, who in recent years also worked as a motivational speaker, appeared in two different seasons of the “Survivor” reality television show. He is likely best known for being so overcome by exhaustion and smoke that he pitched forward into a campfire during the show's second season, set in Australia. He suffered serious burns and had to be airlifted off the island, becoming the first medical evacuation from the game.

hfournier@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4616

@HollyPFournier