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A child porn conviction and angry ‘Star Trek’ fans: Inside the drama around a new sci-fi museum

An exterior view of the Sci-Fi World museum in Santa Monica, with a blown-up image of comic book character Harley Quinn.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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Sci-Fi World, a new “museum” that promises fans real and replica props, costumes and sets from popular films and TV shows, hosted its opening “gala” on Memorial Day in the historic former Sears building just a couple of blocks from the Santa Monica Pier.

More than a decade in the making, the museum has drawn the interest of “Star Trek” fans worldwide thanks to its genesis story: Superfan Huston Huddleston said he salvaged a replica of the bridge from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” from a discard pile outside of a Long Beach warehouse in 2011. Huddleston, known for his fanatical devotion to science fiction and horror, launched Kickstarter campaigns to restore the prop and open a museum to house it, raising nearly $163,000 in less than two years.

But now Huddleston, 54, has emerged as the nexus of questions swirling around the museum, which, despite the recent gala, did not actually open as scheduled. Some of those same sci-fi fans who were enthralled by the museum’s origin story have since learned that in 2018, Huddleston was convicted of misdemeanor possession of child pornography. He was required to serve 126 days in jail and three years of summary probation, complete 52 weeks of sex offender counseling and pay fines.

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In an interview with The Times, Huddleston said he knew that any association with the museum after his conviction would be toxic for an organization that hopes to attract young fans, so he gave up control of the nonprofit and its collection of film and TV ephemera to the museum’s chief executive.

But several Sci-Fi World volunteers past and present told The Times that Huddleston remains active — if not central — in museum operations and preparations for opening. Lee Grimwade, one of the museum’s lead volunteers who quit a day before the gala, said Huddleston is “definitely 100% involved.”

“He’s the idea-guy who is laying it all out. He’s telling you where he wants things, he’s telling you where the walls should go in the museum, he’s telling you where to set up the [security] cameras, he’s telling you all of this stuff,” said Grimwade, a “Star Trek” devotee who said he spent almost every day of the last month setting up the museum and who showed The Times photographs of Huddleston onsite. “He’s basically directing the entire thing.”

Huston Huddleston, in a fedora, Hollywood Horror Museum T-shirt and leather jacket, makes claws with his hands.


Huston Huddleston, the founder of Santa Monica’s Sci-Fi World, told The Times he gave up control of the nonprofit behind the museum and its collection of film and TV memorabilia to the museum’s chief executive because his 2018 conviction for possession of child pornography would be toxic for an organization that hoped to attract young fans.
(Albert L. Ortega / Getty Images)

Concerns about who was actually in charge at the museum reached a fever pitch with the recent resignations of at least two key leaders: Chief Executive John Purdy and General Manager Cory Dacy.

In an email to The Times, Purdy wrote that he’s no longer involved with Sci-Fi World “as a result of a violation by Mr. Huddleston of my contractual agreement with him and his nonprofit foundation.” Asked whether he was, in fact, in charge of the organization after Huddleston’s 2018 conviction, Purdy wrote: “Any and all actions by me were approved in advance in their entirety by Mr. Huddleston in his role as President of the Foundation.”

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GM Dacy, a former Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum manager, had been led to believe that Huddleston would not be involved, but he said Huddleston was regularly onsite — a characterization that Huddleston contests.

The Times has also confirmed that “Star Trek” producer Ronald D. Moore and writer Larry Nemecek — listed as board members on a 2022 tax filing for the Hollywood Science Fiction Foundation, the nonprofit behind the museum — were, in fact, not on the board.

A representative for Moore said the screenwriter has never been involved in the organization, and Nemecek said he resigned in 2015.

As if the museum’s leadership turmoil were not enough, CBS Studios, which produces multiple “Star Trek” series, said it has sent a cease and desist letter to Huddleston and Purdy, notifying them that they do not have the right to re-create elements from the “Star Trek” franchise and exhibit them for commercial use. A studio rep also said the “Next Generation” set pieces were believed to have been destroyed at the time of their disposal because they were extremely damaged.

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Who’s running the show?

Huddleston repeatedly told The Times that his involvement with the museum is minimal, limited to helping assemble tricky props, and that all other managerial duties were up to Purdy. The museum’s public opening is delayed indefinitely due to permitting issues with the city. Huddleston said he had not been a part of early discussions regarding city requirements for getting the space up to code, and that he’s been onsite only about nine times since the 30,000-square-foot space was secured in November.

“I told John, and I told Cory, and I told everybody else involved, ‘I don’t want to step foot in there once it opens,’ ” Huddleston said, adding that he was wrongly convicted and pressured to take a plea deal. He said he had largely stepped aside for the good of the project. “I love that it’s getting done. I was really, really, really hoping by now I could prove my innocence. And that didn’t happen because I didn’t have enough money or power and it all happened during ‘Me Too.’ ”

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Huddleston’s involvement extends to the property’s security camera feeds, which he confirmed connect directly to his phone. Huddleston said that the cameras feed to him only in the absence of a CEO or a general manager, and that he would transfer the cameras to the future GM’s phone.

Dacy said he resigned partly because the museum was not remotely ready to open.

“It’s been haphazardly handled,” Dacy said of the museum, which is selling annual memberships for $70. “It’s being treated the way a pop-up would be treated, in my opinion, where you go in with the idea that you’re going to be open for a few weeks.”

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Grimwade said he heard Huddleston refer to the museum multiple times as a “pop-up,” in particular when “trying to convince electricians to complete work that they seem to think is not up to code for a permanent location.”

Huddleston confirmed that he called the museum a pop-up, and added that it was always meant to be a pop-up, unless it succeeds on a permanent basis.

Donald Gorman, another “Star Trek” fan, said Huddleston paid him $100 in cash to operate a forklift for one day. (Gorman went on to volunteer for three additional days.) He saw Huddleston talking with contractors and taking a photo of a prop replica from the film “Alien” to upload on the museum’s X account.

Grimwade said Huddleston met with a potential new CEO for a tour of the museum a week before the gala, but Huddleston told The Times that beyond recommending him to the board, he was not involved in his recruitment or hiring. Huddleston and Grimwade declined to identify the new CEO; however, Huddleston called him a “well-known, well-respected film producer and director.”

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A cloud even hangs over Huddleston’s salvaged replica bridge that started it all. Huddleston appeared regularly at comic book, sci-fi and film conventions including Comic-Con and WonderCon with pieces of the bridge, most notably the captain’s chair. He’d take pictures of celebrities like “Star Trek” actors Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig and Marina Sirtis sitting in it — a donation bucket for the museum not far away, said former volunteers.

Marina Sirtis and Nichelle Nichols and Huston Huddleston, who are doing the Vulcan salute, smile for cameras.
“Star Trek” actors Marina Sirtis and Nichelle Nichols with Huston Huddleston at the Sci-Fi Hollywood Museum booth at WonderCon 2017. Huddleston appeared regularly at comic book, sci-fi and film conventions with pieces of a salvaged replica of the bridge from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
(Albert L. Ortega / Getty Images)

The restored bridge, however, is not assembled at Sci-Fi World. The organization recently announced that city inspectors and the owners of the building will not permit it to be displayed in its entirety because the bridge doesn’t have sprinklers on its ceiling, making it a fire hazard. The newly restored chairs and computers will be on display for photo ops.

Trekkie outcry

Tickets for Sci-Fi World’s red-carpet gala sold for $200 to $400. However, due to the ongoing permitting issues, the gala was held in the parking lot at the last minute. Santa Monica Fire Marshal Joe Cavin ensured no one entered the building. Huddleston was there, Grimwade said, talking with attendees and even running an auction for a speed painting.

Bradley Clifton, a self-professed “big sci-fi nerd” from Kentucky, donated to the original Kickstarter and flew to L.A. for the “gala.” He described a red carpet near portable toilets, a self-serve table of Buca di Beppo pasta with 2-liter bottles of off-brand soda — and none of the celebrities, bands or comedians that he expected. Clifton got his ticket money back but was out more than $600 for his plane fare and hotel.

“I’ve never been to a red carpet,” Clifton said, adding that the museum’s online posts teasing star-studded guests led him to believe it would be a ritzy L.A. affair, and he had been worried about what to wear. “I just see all this stuff on TV, and I’m thinking, ‘Big deal,’ and I’m like, ‘Wow, this is it?’ ”

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The red carpet at the Sci-Fi World opening gala in front of portable toilets.
Sci-Fi World’s red-carpet gala was held in the museum parking lot at the last minute. Attendees said it was not what they had expected.
(Bradley Clifton)

Olivia Youngers, an actress who appeared in the CBS All Access series “Star Trek: Picard,” volunteered for the museum’s nonprofit in 2014. She said she withdrew her support after a few exchanges with Huddleston made her uncomfortable, and she later learned of his conviction.

“He would frequently comment on my age and how young I looked, and that unnerved me,” she said. When she heard the museum was opening, she discovered that Huddleston was still listed on its tax forms and decided to raise awareness about his involvement on Twitter.

Huddleston said he did not recall Youngers ever being a volunteer. If he made such a comment, it was meant to be a compliment, he added.

Bill Smith, co-host and co-founder of the popular “Trek Geeks” podcast, contributed a small sum to one of Huddleston’s Kickstarters and featured him on his show. Smith pulled the episode off his archives after Huddleston’s conviction and issued an apology to fans.

A Kickstarter update that said Sci-Fi World was about to open alarmed him. On May 9 he wrote to the museum, asking whether Huddleston was still involved.

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“Hi, not for years. John Purdy has been boss since 2018,” read the reply reviewed by The Times.

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“People donating money, especially through a crowdfunding campaign, expect some level of transparency,” said Smith, who added later: “It does feel like they’re trying to just sort of sweep it under the rug and say, ‘There’s nothing to see here.’ How many fans are gonna go through this thing? How many families are going to go through this thing with kids?”

Kasey Shafsky, a co-producer and unit production manager for the webseries “Star Trek Continues,” worked with Huddleston when he co-wrote an episode of the show in 2014, and was aware of his conviction. When Shafsky learned of the museum’s opening, he posted directly to the organization’s Facebook page asking whether Huddleston was still involved.

“Not for about six years as we have said numerous times, and online and on our website and on Google etc,” said the response, reviewed by The Times.

Shafsky pulled up the organization’s most recent publicly available tax return, which lists Huddleston as president in 2022. Shafsky sent a screenshot of the return in response to Sci-Fi World’s denial, asking why the tax form told a different story.

The museum’s reply: “Okay sending it to our ceo, it’s obviously a mistake.”

Huston Huddleston leans down next to Billy West, who's seated.
Huston Huddleston and voice actor Billy West at the Sci-Fi Hollywood Museum booth at WonderCon 2015 in Anaheim.
(Albert L. Ortega / Getty Images)
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A ‘knock and talk’ with the FBI

In September 2013, after being tipped off by a volunteer who claimed to have found questionable material in Huddleston’s social media messages, the FBI conducted a “knock and talk” at Huddleston’s home. During the visit Huddleston “admitted to communicating online with minor females, asking them for nude photos and receiving some photos,” according to a disposition report from the office of the L.A. County district attorney.

Huddleston said a hard drive that he gave to the FBI was found to have illegal images but that he had no idea how they got on the drive. He said he had just retrieved the drive after about two months during which time it had been in many people’s hands, including at various post-production houses that were editing and mixing trailers for the museum. (A representative for the FBI said the bureau does not comment on evidence given to it.) The disposition report said the loss of the computer that contained the hard drive could create reasonable doubt among a jury over who downloaded the child pornography onto the hard drive.

A longtime volunteer named Alana Evans, an adult film actor and president of the Adult Performance Artists Guild, said she had seen Huddleston’s laptop passed around between many volunteers on multiple occasion. She called the conviction ridiculous.

“When I see a creep, I know a creep, let’s be real,” Evans said. “Huston’s not one of those guys.”

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According to court documents, Huddleston was eventually charged with three counts, including “contact with minor for sexual offense,” “using minor for sex acts” and “possession of matter depicting minor engaging in sexual conduct.” He was convicted of the last count and accepted a plea deal that reduced it to a misdemeanor offense, so he did not have to register as a sex offender.

Jessika Lange, a Trekkie who volunteered as the Hollywood Science Fiction Foundation’s social media manager from 2015 to 2017 but remained part of a group chat with other volunteers, heard that Huddleston could not be reached for a period because he was out of town.

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Lange, a paralegal by trade, became suspicious, and after a bit of sleuthing, she discovered that Huddleston was in jail. Volunteers quit, Lange said, and since then some have tracked Huddleston’s social media accounts, noting with increasing concern that he appeared to be heavily involved with the museum.

“It bothers us because we put a lot of effort into this, and it is important to our fandom, and I feel like he really just abused that. He abused our passions for his benefit,” she said. “That’s why we’re real frustrated about it.”

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