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A state traffic engineer from Clarence, once lauded as a community pillar, pleaded guilty Monday to several felony sex crimes against an underage girl that will lead to a 23-year prison sentence.

Craig E. Walek, 49, of Milton Lane, admitted to two counts of using a child in a sexual performance, second-degree criminal sexual act and two counts of second-degree rape.

“These are all registerable sex offenses,” said prosecutor Lynette M. Reda of the Erie County District Attorney’s Office.

Walek had faced 45 charges after his arrest in December, including nine counts of using a child in a sexual performance. He was arrested just a month after the state Public Employees Federation profiled him in its union publication as someone “who gives back to the community.”

“He is a single dad, raising a son … and working another job to keep quality in his home life,” according to the November story in the PEF’s Communicator magazine.

“He is the opposite of how the press portrays state workers, and is the real deal. Craig is just one example among the thousands of PEF members who are responsible and hardworking.”

Walek has been held in lieu of $1 million bail since his arrest by the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.

At that time, Sheriff Timothy Howard said Walek was engaged in “ongoing repeated sexual abuse” of the victim.

The crimes to which Walek pleaded guilty happened between August 2006 and October 2007, when the girl was as young as 14.

The victim, by law, was unable to consent to sexual intercourse because of her age, Reda said in court.

The charges included Walek’s use of a video recorder involving the victim engaged in a sexual performance.

Sentencing is scheduled for April 29.

State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang cited an agreement between defense lawyer John R. Nuchereno and the prosecution, reached during plea negotiations, for a 23-year prison sentence.

“The court intends to sentence the defendant exactly as the district attorney and the defense attorney have stated,” Wolfgang said.

Walek, a senior engineering technician in the Western New York region of the state Department of Transportation, was a local leader in the union representing professional state transportation workers.

Wolfgang said his $1 million bail is continued, and he remains in custody.

“We remain shocked and saddened by the news of the charges brought against Craig Walek,” PEF spokeswoman Jane Briggs recently told the Albany Times Union. “The health and safety of our children is always of the utmost importance to us.”

The union publication noted that Walek had served as president of St. John’s Buffalo Federal Credit Union and was on the board of directors of the Matthew Foster Foundation, an organization that assists families who have children with cancer.

When he was working, he and three other DOT employees oversaw the traffic operations center in Buffalo, monitoring rush-hour traffic in the mornings and evenings. He also investigated intersections to see which ones need a traffic signal and responded to requests from residents or local legislators.

email: plakamp@buffnews.com