SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – An Orange County firefighter is facing charges after a woman told authorities he had been watching her through cameras he placed in her bedroom and bathroom, according to the Seminole County Sheriff's Office.
Earlier this month, deputies were called to 38-year-old Steven R. Brandenberger’s Oviedo home after the woman, who said she had paid rent to live in Brandenberg’s home since 2013, reported the suspected video voyeurism, according to a report.
The victim contacted authorities after her friend, who was visiting the home earlier that week, asked to use the restroom located on the victim’s side of the home. The friend told the victim he found a camera in an air vent in the bathroom while he was in there.
The victim then went to check the camera in the bathroom, but found that it had been removed. Instead, she found a drilled hole with several wires pushed into it that led to the attic. In addition to the wires, a microphone and small camera were also located. The victim disconnected them and handed them over to authorities for evidence.
After finding the hole in the bathroom, the victim went to check an air vent in her bedroom and found a small camera, similar to the one in the bathroom, facing her bed. The victim put duct tape over the camera and waited until Brandenberger left for work before removing it.
The victim said that on several occasions, she felt like she was being watched and even asked Brandenberger if he had her room bugged, which she said he denied. She also said there were multiple instances in which Brandenberger knew details of intimate conversations she had in the privacy of her bedroom.
The victim was also concerned because her 3-year-old and 14-year-old nieces had stayed with her for several days in the past, and showered and changed in the bathroom where the first camera was located, as well as slept in the victim’s room.
While packing her stuff to leave the home, the victim ran into Brandenberger’s mother, who is a retired law enforcement officer, and told her about the cameras. Brandenberger’s mother immediately began yelling at him and asking for a hard drive. It’s unclear if he ever handed over any hard drive because the victim left the home after her encounter with the suspect’s mom.
The victim told authorities that in addition to his job as an Orange County firefighter, Brandenberger also installs home theaters on the side. She said he had a sophisticated computer setup in his bedroom closet, which she called a “hackers closet” that allowed him to monitor cameras she thought were located on the outer perimeter of their home.
According to the report, the victim said Brandenberger had given her access to a program that let her watch some of the cameras, but that not all of them were available to her. When she asked why she didn’t have access to some of the cameras, he told her it was because they were blank.
Last week, investigators searched the home and found that all data storage devices last seen in the home had been removed, but several cables leading to the attic and a microphone similar to the one the victim described were found, authorities said. Cameras were also found in the home, according to the report.
Holes were found in the victim’s bedroom where she said she had previously found a camera.
During their search, investigators also found a recording of Brandenberger having sex with an unknown female who did not appear to know that a camera was recording them, deputies said. The video showed Brandenberger setting up the camera before the two engaged in intercourse and turning it off after she fell asleep, the report said.
Following their findings, investigators found probable cause to charge Brandenberger with eavesdropping illegal interception of oral communication and sex offense video voyeurism of a victim over 19 years of age, the report said.
Brandenberger was arrested and is being held in the Seminole County Jail on a $10,000 bond.
During his first appearance Tuesday, a judge ordered him to wear a GPS monitor and denied him access to the internet or any device that can go online.
"He worked for the Orange County Fire Department for over 14 years and his whole family is in law enforcement," Richard Hornsby, Brandenberger's attorney, said after a judge granted Brandenberger bond. "I think we should extend him the benefit of the doubt until we see what the state has for evidence in this case."
Brandenberger was also relieved of his duties with Orange County Fire Rescue, pending the outcome of an administrative hearing.
“The charges brought forth against Brandenberger are in direct contrast to the core mission and values of the Orange County Fire Rescue Department,” a spokesperson for OCFR said. “An administrative hearing will be scheduled to review the circumstances of his arrest and determine his immediate employment status with the department.”