GREENSBORO, N.C. - Gene Legrand Hickman, Jr. of Moore County, age 63, was sentenced today to 228 months in prison for receiving child pornography. Hickman is also subject to lifetime supervision upon release.
According to court documents, in February 2018, Hickman engaged in sexually explicit chats on Instagram with a 15-year-old boy and a second individual purporting to be a 14-year-old boy. During one of the chats, Hickman revealed that he had engaged in sexual activity with a minor boy on multiple occasions. Hickman also favorably discussed the sexual abuse of boys with another Instagram user who claimed to have sexually exploited multiple minors. Facebook, Inc., the owner of Instagram, reported the conduct to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). The following month, Facebook, Inc. reported a second Instagram account used by Hickman to NCMEC because it contained a child pornography image depicting an adult male engaging in a sex act with two prepubescent boys. NCMEC issued CyberTipline reports concerning Hickman’s accounts. The reports were routed to the Moore County Sheriff’s Office.
In June 2018, Moore County investigators executed a warrant at Hickman’s residence and recovered four devices that, in total, contained hundreds of child pornography files. Moore County investigators obtained the contents of Hickman’s Instagram accounts from Facebook, Inc. The records revealed additional similar behavior concerning the sexual exploitation of minors and claims by Hickman that he sexually molested multiple minors.
In December 2019, Moore County and North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation investigators executed a second warrant at Hickman’s residence. Investigators found Hickman’s unlocked phone and a manual search of the device revealed that Hickman had used a heavily encrypted messaging application to send and receive child pornography files. Hickman admitted that he engaged in sexual activity with a minor boy on multiple occasions over a period of years. The Federal Bureau of Investigation then adopted the case for further investigation and federal prosecution.
According to its website, NCMEC’s CyberTipline is the nation’s centralized reporting system for the online exploitation of children. The public and electronic service providers can make reports of suspected online enticement of children for sexual acts, child sexual molestation, child sexual abuse material, child sex tourism, child sex trafficking, unsolicited obscene materials sent to a child, misleading domain names, and misleading words or digital images on the internet. https://www.missingkids.org/gethelpnow/cybertipline.
The Moore County Sheriff’s Office and Federal Bureau of Investigation are both members of the North Carolina Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. The Task Force is led by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) Computer Crimes Division. https://www.ncsbi.gov/Divisions/Field-Operations/Computer-Crimes. According to the SBI, NCMEC CyberTipline reports have increased dramatically as follows:
Year - NCMEC CyberTipline Reports to North Carolina
- 2016 - 2511
- 2017 - 3258
- 2018 - 4737
- 2019 - 4893
- 2020 - 9308
- 2021 - >11,000*
*Estimated based on reports to date: 5375 as of June 18, 2021.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Eric L. Iverson. It was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative by the Department of Justice to combat online 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 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.