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Press Release

St. Louis Sex Offender Who Sought Pictures from Teens Sentenced to 17 ½ Years in Prison

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Missouri

ST. LOUIS – U.S. District Court John A. Ross on Tuesday sentenced a sex offender from St. Louis, Missouri who sought explicit images from teens online to 17 ½ years in prison.

In January of 2023, detectives from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in California were conducting an undercover investigation into online child exploitation when they received a message from James W. Rankin. Using the screen name “Lonely_Nerd,” Rankin began communicating with someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl. On the social media application Whisper, Rankin sent her a picture of his genitals, discussed going to California to pick her up and asked for sexually explicit pictures of her. 

Rankin also possessed child pornography on his cell phone and admitted that he’d sought sexually explicit pictures via Whisper from others who identified themselves as minors.

Rankin, 47, pleaded guilty in November to one count of solicitation of child pornography and one count of transfer of obscene material.

Rankin was on parole and residing in a residential re-entry center at the time of his crimes. He had served prison time on a charge of first-degree statutory rape of a minor under 14 in Greene County Circuit Court. Rankin was also convicted of endangering the welfare of a child and domestic assault in a 2017 Christian County, Missouri case after he engaged in sexual contact with a child under 17, court records show.

The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department and the FBI investigated the case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Jillian Anderson is prosecuting the case. 

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 Department of Justice Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, 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


Robert Patrick, Public Affairs Officer,

Updated March 6, 2024

Project Safe Childhood