U.S. ATTORNEY, LAW ENFORCEMENT PARTNERS, ANNOUNCE TASK FORCE RESULTS AGAINST CHILD EXPLOITATION
TUESDAY MAY 24, 2011
Public Affairs Officer
Encourage parents, children to talk about online dangers
COLUMBUS -- U.S. Attorney Carter M. Stewart and representatives of several federal, state and local law enforcement agencies today announced the results of a two-year child exploitation interdiction initiative by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Franklin County Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the FBI Cybercrimes Task Force.
The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office leads the Franklin County Internet Crimes Against Children task force which operates out of a facility equipped and funded through federal and local grants. The task force includes officers from the police departments in Columbus, Grove City, Upper Arlington, Westerville, and Whitehall as well as a special agent from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Since their establishment in May 2009, Franklin County task force members have arrested, and successfully prosecuted more than 180 defendants in Central Ohio. They have identified 10 child victims of sex abuse, seized hundreds of pieces of evidence and have taken more than a dozen repeat sex offenders off the streets. The Franklin County task force has referred 27 cases for federal prosecution and the Special Victims Unit in the office of Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Ron O’Brien has prosecuted 114 cases resulting from the task force’s work.
In recognition of their success, last week the Franklin County task force members received the Interdiction Strategy Award from the U.S. Department of Justice as one of the Department’s 2011 Combating Child Exploitation Awards.
The FBI Cybercrimes Task Force includes FBI Special Agents, agents with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI), and detectives from the police departments in Powell, Dublin, Westerville, Reynoldsburg and The Ohio State University.
- A trained officer will typically be present at the execution of a search warrant, providing the capacity to perform a forensic "on-site preview" of a suspect's computers and media for child pornography and other evidence - even as the search warrant is being executed. This technique provides solid probable cause to make an on-scene arrest of a suspect, as well as secures strong evidentiary information that can then be incorporated into an on-scene or station-house interview of the suspect. In many cases, this on-site preview has produced evidence strong enough to convince a judge to detain the defendant without bond pending resolution of the case.
- U.S. Attorney Stewart noted that the individuals charged as a result of task force investigations cover broad spectrum of education, income, marital status and some have occupied positions of trust in connection with children.
- The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimates that 10 percent of those depicted in commonly traded images are infants and toddlers, and 67 percent are prepubescent children.
- In an effort to send a message to individuals who are engaged in, or are contemplating engaging in, the possession and distribution of child pornography, Stewart stated, “This is far from a victimless crime. Those who view and trade these images share a large responsibility for the abuse of the children in these images. Their abuse didn’t end the day the criminal material was produced. Their abuse continues with every subsequent distribution, every subsequent possession, every subsequent viewing. Your behavior creates the market for these images, which means you share the responsibility for the sexual abuse of children around the world.”
- Stewart noted that the federal penalties associated with child exploitation crimes are severe. In addition to facing a lengthy, often mandatory, term of imprisonment, defendants prosecuted in the Southern District of Ohio face lengthy periods of court supervision following any incarceration. During that time, in addition to being a registered sex offender, a defendant will not be allowed to have any unsupervised contact with children, will be subject to random searches of their homes and places of work, and will have his computer and Internet use monitored.
Stewart, who chairs U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Working Group, noted that May 25th marks National Missing Children’s Day, a reminder to the nation to renew efforts to reunite missing children with their families, remember those who are still missing and make child protection a national priority.
“This year, I encourage you to mark National Missing Children’s Day by spending 25 minutes talking with the children you love about ways to stay safer online and in your neighborhoods,” Stewart said.
For information, including tips on talking to kids about internet safety and games for kids that teach about staying safer online, visit www.netsmartz.org.
“You can also plan a ‘Take 25’ event at a local school or community center to help educate the community about the importance of internet safety. Visit www.take25.org to register an event or to learn about events in the area.
- For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov .
- For sample “safe computing contracts” for parents and teens, visit www.ncmec.org.
- To report cases of child exploitation, please visit www.cybertipline.com.
Significant Recent Child Exploitation Cases
Sexual Exploitation of Children
If convicted of the charge of sexual exploitation of children, which is the same offense as production of child pornography, a defendant faces a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 15 years and a maximum term of imprisonment of 30 years.
Steven Ray Tackett, 46, of Cardington was sentenced on May 9, 2011 to 265 months in prison for taking sexually explicit photos of a nine-year old girl and posting the pictures on an Internet photo-sharing site. He was also ordered to serve the rest of his life under court supervision after he completes his prison sentence. Tackett pleaded guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of children. Detectives in the Galion Police Special Investigation Unit began investigating Tackett as the result of a complaint received by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) CyberTipline and shared with the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force based in Cleveland and the FBI. Tackett admitted to taking the photos and using a computer in the Cardington library to upload the photos to his Internet photo-sharing account. Tackett has been in custody since he was charged in a federal complaint on May 7, 2010.
John K. Hughes, 70, of Dublin, was sentenced in March 2011 to 262 months in prison for sexually exploiting a girl from the time she was four until she was 11 and taking more than 500 sexually explicit photographs of her. Hughes pleaded guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of children. He was charged after the victim told law enforcement that she had been the victim of abuse. Agents and officers with the FBI Cybercrimes Task Force executed a search warrant at Hughes’ house where they found a DVD containing sexually explicit images of the victim including images taken in a bedroom of the residence. Agents also searched a camper Hughes owned at a campground in Senecaville and took cameras, a laptop computer and media storage items. An initial forensic review of the material revealed approximately 500 images of the victim in sexually explicit positions. Hughes was arrested and has been in custody since his arrest.
Christopher Gould, 51, of Westerville was sentenced to 180 months imprisonment for taking photographs of a ten-year old girl in sexually explicit poses. He was also sentenced to be placed under court supervision for the rest of his life. His son, Adam Gould, 25, pleaded guilty to one count of transportation of child pornography. Adam Gould was sentenced to 80 months imprisonment. Christopher Gould pleaded guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of children by producing child pornography. ICE agents and Westerville police officers executed a federal search warrant at Gould’s home. While there, agents seized computers belonging to Adam Gould. Forensic examiners found more than 2,500 pictures and 78 movies of child pornography on the two computers. Agents also seized a briefcase containing the photographs that Christopher Gould admitted taking, and a computer belonging to Christopher Gould. Forensic analysis of this computer uncovered more than 30 sexually explicit images of the same juvenile and evidence that there had been other photos that Christopher Gould had deleted.
Internet Enticement of a Minor
If convicted of the charge of internet enticement of a minor, a defendant faces a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of ten years and a maximum term of imprisonment of life.
Michael Uberstine, 54, of Brook Park, Ohio, was sentenced to 150 months in prison for coercion and enticement of a minor, after attempting to elicit sex from a Franklin County ICAC task force officer posing as a 15-year old female. Uberstine pleaded guilty to one count of coercion and enticement for using the Internet to attempt to persuade, induce or entice an individual who has not attained the age of 18 years, to engage in unlawful sexual activity. A task force officer patrolling the Internet encountered Uberstine in a chat room, while posing as a 38 year-old female who has a 15 year-old daughter. Uberstine chatted with them and inquired about meeting with the 15 year-old for the purpose of engaging in sex. Uberstine arranged to have them travel to meet with him two days later in Middleburg Heights, Ohio. Uberstine arrived at the agreed location and was taken into custody. He has been in custody since his arrest. Uberstine was convicted in June of 2008 in Wayne County, Ohio, of Importuning a Minor to Engage in Sexual Activity, and was a registered Tier I sex offender at the time of his arrest in this case.
John H. Szewczyk, 28, of Lexington, Ohio was sentenced in August 2010 to ten years’ imprisonment followed by 15 years of supervised release for using the internet to try and persuade a girl under the age of 18 to engage in sexual activity. Szewczyk pleaded guilty to one count of enticement. Szewczyk sent an instant message from his home computer to an undercover online investigator thinking the investigator was a 38-year old woman and her 15-year old daughter. During the course of the online conversation, Szewczyk admitted he was on probation for being convicted of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, but still made plans to meet the juvenile at her house. When he arrived at the Westerville house where he thought the girl lived, task force officers approached him and searched him. They found that he was carrying condoms and a Lady Gaga “Fame Monster” compact disc which the undercover officer had requested Szewczyk bring with him. Szewczyk was convicted in Crawford County Common Pleas Court in 2007 for unlawful sex with a minor for impregnating a 14-year old girl he met on the Internet.
Receipt and Distribution of Child Pornography
If convicted of the charge of possession, receipt and distribution of child pornography, a defendant faces a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of five years and a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years.
Matthew R. Fisher, 33, of Pickerington was arrested at his home in April and charged with receipt of child pornography. At the time, Fisher taught at Reynoldsburg High School and coached the district’s eighth-grade girls’ basketball team. Agents investigating known child porn websites found evidence that images of child pornography had been downloaded by someone on a computer located at Fisher’s home. ICE HSI Agents and Franklin County Internet Crimes against Children Task Force officers executed a search warrant at his home, seized the computer and charged Fisher in a federal complaint.
Michael S. Highman, 43, of Upper Arlington was sentenced to 136 months imprisonment for using an Internet site to share more than 200,000 images and movies of prepubescent teenage boys engaged in sexual acts. At the time, Highman was a teacher and boys basketball coach at Weaver Middle School in Hilliard. Highman pleaded guilty to one count of distribution of child pornography. Members of the FBI Columbus Cybercrimes Task Force investigating known child pornography sites on the Internet identified Highman as a user of a peer to peer file-sharing program, and subsequently downloaded images and videos from Highman. Investigators found computer storage devices hidden in Highman’s house, including one hard drive hidden in the ceiling of the basement. Highman had collected and traded child pornography over the internet for several years, and possessed thousands of images and videos mostly of boys between the ages of 7 and 14 in sexually explicit poses or engaging in sexual activity with other minors or adult men. He used peer-to-peer software running on computers in his basement 24 hours a day to collect and share the images.
Richard Case Jr., 35, of Westerville, was sentenced to 100 months in prison for knowingly receiving child pornography over the Internet. After his prison term, he will be placed under court supervision for five years. He will be required to register as a sex offender any where he lives, works, or goes to school. Case pleaded guilty to one count of receipt of child pornography. Case posted an ad on Craigslist in June, 2010 requesting someone to meet with him and engage in sexual activities, and invited females of any age to respond. An ICAC Task Force patrolling the Internet posed as a 15-year old girl and responded to the ad. Through a series of online conversations, Case arranged a meeting at a local park. When Case arrived for the meeting, task force officers arrested him. Agents obtained a search warrant for Case’s house. They found two desktop computers and storage media which held approximately 500 images of child pornography. At the time, he was the girls’ lacrosse coach at Westerville North High School.
Cody Sippola, 37, of north Columbus, was sentenced to 87 months in prison for knowingly receiving child pornography over the Internet. He faced a minimum five-year sentence, but received a higher sentence under the terms of the plea agreement because he also engaged in a pattern of activity involving the sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor. In September, 2009, a Franklin County ICAC task force investigator was patrolling the Internet looking for individuals sharing child pornography files. The investigator identified an internet protocol (IP) address that appeared to be sharing child pornography files and found approximately 360 files were available at that IP address. The investigator determined the physical location of the computer, which was Sippola’s home address, and obtained a search warrant. Officers seized a computer containing file-sharing software and approximately 250 images of child pornography. Sippola admitted that he had been downloading child pornography for approximately four years. He also admitted that he had sexually exploited an 11-year old girl.
Jeffrey A. Ables, 43, of Columbus’s east side, was sentenced to 120 months in prison after investigators found him sharing over the Internet videos and images of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. A Franklin County Sheriff's Detective was engaged in an Internet investigation and observed an Internet Protocol (IP) address as a download candidate for suspected child pornography. Further investigation revealed that the subscriber information for that IP address came back to Ables’s residence. Investigators obtained a search warrant for Ables’s house and seized a laptop computer. Forensic analysis of the computer discovered approximately 70 videos and 150 images of child pornography. Ables was previously convicted of a sex crime for soliciting sex from a 14-year old in 2007 in Hamilton County, Ohio.
A woman called the Franklin County ICAC Task Force in October 2010 to report she had found child pornography on a laptop computer given to her son. Investigators traced the computer back to Michael T. Nieves, 24, of Reynoldsburg. They searched his apartment and found another laptop computer with approximately 4,000 videos and images of child pornography, the majority of which had been downloaded and saved to the computer during July and August of 2010. Nieves was sentenced March 3, 2011 to 180 months in prison for receipt of child pornography.
Brent Camp, 35, of Hebron was sentenced to 96 months imprisonment for possessing more than 4,700 images of child pornography and sharing images over the Internet of a three- to four-year old child in sexually explicit poses. A task force officer with the FBI Columbus Cybercrimes Task Force investigating known child pornography sites on the Internet observed a participant in a peer-to-peer file sharing program who identified himself as “Trixter” sharing numerous files with titles indicative of child pornography. The officer downloaded approximately 19 images of suspected child pornography from “Trixter.” The agent traced the computer address to Camp’s house. Members of the FBI and Licking County Sheriff's Department executed a search warrant at Camp’s house, and seized various computer equipment and digital media. Camp fled the area and an arrest warrant was issued. He surrendered to Sheriff Randy Thorp’s office and later pleaded guilty.
Gary R. Hodge, 48, of Columbus, pleaded guilty to one count of receipt of child pornography for possessing approximately 2,000 digital images and 200 digital movies containing child pornography that he had purchased and downloaded from the Internet. ICE agents in Massachusetts investigating a Russian-based Website that sold child pornography identified Hodge as a subscriber to the Website. ICE agents searched Hodge’s north Columbus home and seized a computer where the images were stored. Forensic analysis of the computer’s hard drive recovered the images. He is awaiting sentencing.
Steven D. Knisley, 40, of Columbus, pleaded guilty to one count of receipt of child pornography. An investigation by the FBI Cybercrimes Task Force found more than 600 images of child pornography on his computer. They also found that Knisley had been accessing internet sites where he could make a webcam connection while chatting with other individuals on the internet. Investigators discovered that on numerous occasions, Knisley would chat with younger looking females, some of whom identified themselves as between 12 and 15 years old, when he would expose his genitals to the young girls on the webcam, then take and save a screen-capture of the incident on his computer. It is no stretch to say that Mr. Knisely’s conduct was the cyber-equivalent of a park-flasher. He is awaiting sentencing and faces a minimum five-year sentence.
Possession of Child Pornography
If convicted of the charge of possession of child pornography, a defendant faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years.
A former Columbus physician specializing in neonatology, Philip T. Nowicki, 58, was sentenced to 27 months imprisonment for admitting that he used a computer at the Columbus hospital where he worked to subscribe to an illegal international child porn website. Nowicki pleaded guilty to one count of possession of child pornography. An HSI agent testified that agents investigating an illegal international child porn website identified Nowicki as a subscriber. The site gave him access to thousands of images and videos of child pornography. Agents searched a computer in his office and found evidence of his subscription. Agents executed a search warrant at his Canal Winchester home and seized a personal computer that a forensic analysis found contained approximately 120 images of child pornography in temporary internet files. Credit card records show that he paid $79.99 a month for three consecutive months in 2005 and 2006 to subscribe to the site.
Roger Thurau, 33, of Reynoldsburg pleaded guilty to one count of possession of child pornography after investigators found approximately 20,000 video and image files of child pornography on his home computer. A Franklin County Sheriff's Detective was engaged in an investigation into sharing child pornography on the Internet observed an Internet Protocol (IP) address listing available for sharing, approximately 1,500 files whose names indicated possible images of child pornography. Investigators seized computers from his house. Forensic analysis of the computers found child pornography that had been meticulously categorized. The files included images and videos of children as young as three to six months old being sexually abused by adult men, as well as nude children tied up with rope and forced into sexually explicit positions. Investigators estimate that Thurau’s computers contain approximately 20,000 video and image files of child pornography.
Shane R. Ostrowski, 39, of Bexley, was sentenced in United States District Court to 33 months imprisonment for possessing more than 500 images of children under the age of 12 being sexually exploited. Ostrowski came to law enforcement’s attention as a result of the arrest in January 2009 of a producer and prolific trader of child pornography – an individual found to have traded images of child pornography with approximately 100 different individuals. On October 27, 2009, Federal search warrants were executed at Ostrowski’s residence and place of employment and his computers were seized. A forensic examination was performed on Ostrowski’s laptop computer. The examiner found several chat logs with an accompanying approximately 500 digital images that were clearly child pornography, including images of prepubescent females engaged in anal and vaginal sex with adult males. Ostrowski was ordered to serve five years under court supervision after his prison time.
Larry E. Messer, 33, of Columbus, was sentenced to 120 months in prison for possessing seven digital images and 69 digital movies of prepubescent minors engaged in sexually explicit activity. Task force members were engaged in an internet investigation involving the sharing of child pornography via internet file-sharing programs and observed a user of one file-sharing program sharing files that appeared to be child pornography. They traced the IP address to a computer at Messer’s Columbus residence. Task force officers obtained a search warrant for Messer’s residence and interviewed Messer. According to a statement of facts read into court, Messer said he had accidentally downloaded child pornography, but admitted that at the time of the search warrant he knew the child pornography files were on his computer. Forensic analysis revealed the existence of seven images and 69 videos, many of which depicted adult males performing sex acts on prepubescent children. Messer was convicted in Franklin County Common Pleas Court of rape in 2002. His conviction for a sex crime was used to enhance the sentence of a child pornography offense under federal law.
Ian Kimmel, 31, of Dublin was sentenced in January 2010 to 24 months imprisonment for having between 150 and 300 images on his personal computer depicting children under the age of 18 engaged in sexually explicit conduct. He will also be required to be under court supervision for five years after he serves any prison time. Kimmel pleaded guilty to one count of child pornography. In September 2008 FBI agents in Oklahoma City investigating peer-to-peer file sharing programs tracked files depicting child pornography to a computer at Kimmel’s address. Task Force Officers from the FBI Cyber Crimes Task Force located in Columbus obtained and executed a Federal Search Warrant at Kimmel’s Dublin home and seized numerous computers. Forensic reviews were conducted on each computer. The review of one of the laptop computers revealed nearly 300 images of child pornography.
(If a defendant qualifies as a second offender under the relevant statutes, he faces increased minimum and maximum penalties.)