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Bureau Country Man Charged With Using Internet In Attempt To Entice Minor To Engage In Sex

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 5, 2009

Peoria, Ill. – A Bureau County, Illinois man has been charged in a federal criminal complaint with attempting to entice a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity. Gregory F. Merkley, 64, of Tiskilwa, Illinois, was arrested yesterday, August 4, 2009, and made his initial appearance in federal court this morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge John A. Gorman. Merkley was released under conditions, including electronic monitoring.

The affidavit filed in support of the complaint alleges that on various occasions beginning on July 7, 2009, through August 4, 2009, Merkley engaged in Internet chats with a person he believed to be a 14-year-old girl from Hanna City, Illinois. According to the affidavit, Merkley was actually chatting with an officer of the Peoria County Sheriff’s Department who had assumed the Internet profile of the 14-year-old girl.

According to the affidavit, during the Internet chats, Merkley allegedly expressed a desire to meet the girl and for the two of them to engage in sexual acts together. During a chat on July 29, 2009, Merkley allegedly suggested meeting the girl at a Peoria mall on August 4, 2009. Based on Merkley’s description of his vehicle and the designated meeting place, on August 4, 2009, law enforcement officers stopped the car driven by Merkley after they observed Merkley at the location where the girl and Merkley had allegedly agreed to meet.

The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Secret Service, Peoria County Sheriff’s Department and the Bloomington Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kirk D. Schoenbein.

If convicted of the offense, Merkley faces a mandatory minimum statutory penalty of 10 years to 30 years in prison, up to life supervised release, and fines of up to $250,000.

Members of the public are reminded that a complaint is merely an accusation; the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.

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