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Former East Central Illinois Youth Pastor Indicted, Charged With Sexual Exploitation Of Children

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 20, 2010

Urbana, Ill. – A Rossville, Illinois man who formerly worked as a youth pastor made his initial appearance in federal court this afternoon on charges of sexual exploitation of children. Andrew L. Thomas, 46, was charged in a five-count indictment returned by a grand jury last week but sealed pending his appearance in court, announced U.S. Attorney James A. Lewis, Central District of Illinois.

Thomas appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge David G. Bernthal and was ordered to remain in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending trial, which is scheduled on Nov. 29, before Chief U.S. District Judge Michael P. McCuskey.

Each count of the indictment alleges that Thomas, a former youth minister at First Church of Christ in Rossville, Illinois, enticed minors to engage in sexually explicit conduct to produce images of the conduct. According to the indictment, Thomas is also known as: “Stephanie Danielson,” “Kayla Wilson,” “Jennifer Martinez,” Jessica Gonzalez,” “Justin Danielson,” and, “Justin Williams,” and used the following email addresses: justjock89@aim.com,” “Kaylaw21to@aol.com,” Foryouhopeulike@aol.com,” Luknfrmystudboy2@aim.com,” “Stephaniedanielson89@hotmail.com,” and stephaniedanielson1989@yahoo.com.”

During today’s court appearance, the government requested that Thomas be detained in federal law enforcement custody pending trial. According to court documents filed by the government, Thomas allegedly perpetrated a scheme to disguise himself as a female identified as “Stephanie,” “Jenn,” “Jessica,” or “Kayla” through social networking sites, e-mail accounts and text messages using a Trac phone to make contact with minor-age boys. Thomas then allegedly covertly enticed the minors, by sending them pornographic images of his female personae, to solicit pornographic images of the minor boys. The indictment alleges the time of the alleged conduct as follows: count one - from February to March 2010; count two - January to March 2010; count three - January 2007 to January 2010; count four - December 2009 to March 2010; and, count five - January to March 2010.

Anyone with questions or information regarding this ongoing investigation is urged to contact the Vermilion County Sheriff’s Department, Investigator Todd Damilano, at 217-442-4080 or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations, Resident Agent in Charge Mike Mitchell, of Springfield, at 217-585-9869, ext 221.

If convicted, each count of sexual exploitation of a child carries a mandatory minimum statutory penalty of 15 years to 30 years in prison. Following imprisonment, the defendant may be ordered to remain on supervised release for up to life.

The charges are the result of an ongoing investigation by the Vermilion County Sheriff’s Department and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations. The Decatur Police Department also assisted in the investigation as a member of the working group. The case is being prosecuted in cooperation with the Vermilion County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Members of the public are reminded that an indictment 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 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 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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