- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - A former Livingston and Billings West High School teacher and basketball coach faces charges alleging he sexually exploited children and distributed child pornography, federal prosecutors said.

Scott James Nichols pleaded not guilty to a 23-count indictment during a hearing Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby, The Billings Gazette (http://bit.ly/1pOPbOP ) reported.

The indictment charges Nichols, 42, with two counts of sexual exploitation of children, two counts of attempted sexual exploitation, 16 counts of distribution of child pornography and three counts of possessing child pornography.

The sexual exploitation charges allege Nichols persuaded two girls, approximately 13 and 14, to engage in sexually explicit conduct for him to photograph and share with others. He is charged with trying to sexually exploit two other girls, also ages 13 and 14.

Nichols is charged with 16 instances of using a computer to send child pornography and of having three computers containing child pornography.

The crimes are alleged to have happened in Yellowstone County between December 2012 and May 2013.

Nichols taught physical education and coached girls’ basketball at West High for one school year. He coached the West girls to a third-place finish at state in March 2013. He also coached a middle school track team.

Nichols was placed on paid administrative leave in May 2013 after school officials learned about the federal investigation. His contract wasn’t renewed.

Nichols’ attorney, Jay Lansing, declined to comment Wednesday.

Ostby set an Oct. 3 deadline to reach a plea agreement and an Oct. 14 trial date.

Nichols was hired at Billings West after 15 years in Livingston. He passed a background check, the Gazette reported.

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Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com