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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Maryland

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Prior Sex Offender Sentenced To 10 Years In Prison For Possessing Child Pornography



Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett sentenced Austin Portner, age 55, of Hagerstown, Maryland, today to 10 years in prison followed by 20 years of supervised release for possessing child pornography and of having a prior sex offense conviction. Judge Bennett ordered that upon his release from prison, Portner must register as a sex offender in the place where he resides, where he is an employee, and where he is a student, under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).

The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge William Winter of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); and Colonel Marcus L. Brown, Superintendent of the Maryland State Police.

According to his plea agreement, on November 14, 2002, Portner was convicted of second and third degree sex offenses in Washington County, Maryland for having sexual contact with a 10 year-old victim. He was released from prison in 2009. Portner was employed in Pennsylvania.

In August of 2012, Maryland State Police discovered multiple handwritten letters between Portner and an individual who was incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Institute in Hagerstown for sexual offenses involving children. Portner referred to the inmate in his letters as “Big Brother.” The mailings contained sketches of young children portrayed in lascivious manner with attending captions describing sexual contact with men, and references to the predation of children. Portner also explained that he had found a computer and that he was visiting websites for child pornography. One of the letters contained a photo of two young girls whom Portner stated were located in Pennsylvania.

When asked about the letters, Portner stated that he met “Big Brother” while he was in prison and that they shared a mutual interest in sex with children. Portner looked forward to the inmate’s release from prison so that he could learn how to attract young children. Portner stated that after his release from prison, he had viewed child pornography roughly one to three times a week from his residence on a netbook computer that linked to the WiFi network of a nearby coffee shop. Portner initially stated that he had destroyed the computer and that he no longer owned or had access to a computer, but later acknowledged owning a computer.

On February 11, 2013, law enforcement recovered a laptop computer from Portner’s residence, as well as additional letters between Portner and his “Big Brother.” The computer contained more than 200 images of visual depictions of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct. Some of the images included photos of young children and infants who are bound or restrained and subjected to physical and sexual abuse.

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, 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.justice.gov/psc. For more information about internet safety education, please visit www.justice.gov/psc and click on the "resources" tab on the left of the page.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the HSI Baltimore and Maryland State Police for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark W. Crooks, who prosecuted the case.

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Updated January 26, 2015