Pasco County Man Sentenced To 30 Years In Federal Prison For Sexually Exploiting Children
Tampa, Florida – U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday has sentenced Thomas VanGelder (40, Holiday) to 30 years in federal prison, followed by a lifetime term of supervised release, for attempted enticement of a minor and possessing child sex abuse material. The court also ordered VanGelder to forfeit the electronic devices used in the commission of the offense. Restitution for the victims will be determined at a later date. VanGelder had pleaded guilty on May 31, 2022.
According to court documents, VanGelder had been communicating online with another individual who lived in New Port Richey. During those communications, the individual sent VanGelder child sex abuse material (“CSAM”) that the individual had produced of a child who had been in his care and custody. The FBI arrested the individual, assumed his online identity, and began communicating with VanGelder in an undercover capacity.
Between May 5, 2021, and May 27, 2021, VanGelder communicated with someone who was represented to be that same individual. Unbeknownst to VanGelder, he was in fact speaking with an undercover FBI agent (“UC”). During the conversations, VanGelder sent the UC six images of CSAM and discussed his desire to meet with the UC for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity with the UC’s purported child. VanGelder suggested that the UC provide the child with sleeping pills by hiding it in ice cream so VanGelder could sexually abuse the child while the child was “passed out.”
VanGelder arranged to meet with the UC on May 27, 2021, for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity with the UC’s purported child. The FBI arrested VanGelder once he arrived at the predetermined location in Tampa. During an interview with agents, VanGelder attempted to solicit the help of his then live-in girlfriend to destroy a green bag that was located under his bed in his bedroom. Agents were able to seize VanGelder’s cellphone and observe that the text messages VanGelder had attempted to send did not transmit due to a lack of cell service.
The FBI obtained a search warrant for VanGelder’s residence. At the residence, agents found the green bag, which contained multiple electronic devices. A forensic analysis of an external hard drive revealed VanGelder was in possession of over 4,000 CSAM images, including images depicting prepubescent children subjected to sadomasochistic conduct and bondage. Agents also discovered that VanGelder had been coordinating with an Orlando man to create and produce CSAM of a five-year-old girl and one-year-old boy the Orlando man had in his care and custody.
“As heart wrenching as it is to learn how these predators prey on innocent children, it’s gratifying to share with the public how the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Forces are finding these perpetrators, rescuing the victims, and ensuring the abusers are brought to justice,” said FBI Tampa Division Special Agent in Charge David Walker.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation with assistance from the Pasco Sheriff's Office and the Tampa Police Department. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Lisa M. Thelwell.
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 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 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.