Palm Coast Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Charge of Receiving Child Pornography
Jacksonville, Florida - United States Attorney Robert E. O'Neill announces today that Andrew Hitas (64, Palm Coast) pleaded guilty to a federal charge of receiving child pornography over the internet. Hitas faces a mandatory minimum sentence of at least five years and up to 20 years in federal prison and a potential life term of supervised release. The plea agreement also requires Hitas to forfeit two computers. Hitas has been in custody since his arrest on October 26, 2011 in Palm Coast.
According to court documents, in March 2011, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (“NCIS”) received information from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that an internet protocol (“IP”) address assigned to Hitas had been identified as downloading images containing child pornography from a particular child pornography website. On May 26, 2011, an NCIS agent and another task force officer interviewed Hitas at his residence in Palm Coast. Among other things, Hitas stated that he looks at naturalist sites that include nude photos of children. Hitas was shown four images depicting children that were obtained from the web access log pertaining to the IP address assigned to him. The images that he recognized were of teenage girls who were completely nude, posing in a sexually suggestive manner. Hitas was then shown four other images that were obtained from the same web access log. These images contained minor males and females that appear to be as young as two years old engaged in sexual acts. Hitas was asked if he would consider those images to be child pornography, and he said “yes.”
According to court documents, after Hitas was advised that the agents would be seizing his computers, Hitas invited the agents into his bedroom and stated “It’s all on there,” referring to a particular computer. Hitas acknowledged that he had images and videos of child pornography, and that he had been engaged in this type of activity since 2004. Subsequent forensic analysis of one of Hitas’ computers revealed that it contained 3,904 images and 514 videos depicting child pornography. This case was investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney D. Rodney Brown.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys' Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov. For more information about internet safety education, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov and click on the tab "other resources."