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Press Release

Berea, Ohio Man Sentenced to 35 Years for Sexually Exploiting Children

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Ohio

Cody Swinnerton, 25, of Berea, was sentenced to 35 years in prison with 25 years supervised release to follow. He was also ordered to pay $45,900 in special assessments.  He previously pleaded guilty on September 10, 2019 to seven counts of Sexual Exploitation of Children, and one count each of Receipt and Possession of Child Pornography after he contacted several children between the ages of 12 and 15 and coerced them into sending him sexually explicit images.

According to an affidavit in the case and information presented at sentencing:

Swinnerton began his exploitation of children in 2013 when he engaged in sexual conduct with a sleeping child and then videotaped the assault with his cellphone.  Thereafter, Swinnerton attended athletic events, like the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where he would take pictures of the preteen athletes.  He would later contact the young athletes on social media sites like Instagram and Snapchat to congratulate them and share photos.  Simultaneously, he would contact the boys online using a teenage female persona and solicit, entice and coerce them to send sexually explicit images of themselves. 

Swinnerton used this technique to gain access to a young teenage boy and his family in New York.  After an extended period of Instagram chats, Swinnerton moved to New York and gained access to the young athlete’s home by, among other things, befriending the family.  On more than one occasion, Swinnerton sexually assaulted the sleeping minor and recorded the assault.  Swinnerton used memorabilia he acquired during his job with the Cleveland Cavaliers to entice this victim and others to communicate with him.

The case came to the attention of law enforcement when the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force received a tip that Swinnerton appeared to be enticing and coercing minors to produce sexually explicit images. Swinnerton controlled multiple accounts and targeted minors between the ages of 12 and 15 on Instagram and Facebook.

Swinnerton contacted the victims’ friends and family to coerce the victims into producing more images. He also threatened the victims in an effort to get them to produce sexually explicit images. Further investigation revealed potential victims in Ohio, Tennessee, Iowa, Texas, Australia, Austria and France.

A search warrant was executed at Swinnerton’s Berea residence on January 25, 2019. Relatives said Swinnerton was on vacation in Australia at the time of the search, however, ICAC investigators were able to seize several of Swinnerton’s computer devices.  A forensic review of Swinnerton’s laptop revealed hundreds of sexually explicit images of preteen and teenage boys.  Further investigation revealed that Swinnerton was staying in Australia with another victim and his family.  Swinnerton surreptitiously recorded sexually explicit videos of the Australian boy even after learning that Ohio investigators had executed the search warrant on his house.    

“Let this 35-year prison sentence send a message to those would sexually assault and exploit our children,” said United States Attorney Herdman.  “We will find you anywhere in the world and we will never quit until you are brought to justice and held accountable for the unspeakable harm you have caused.” 

“This case is a disturbing reminder that international borders are no longer a hindrance for online predators,” said Vance Callender, special agent in charge of HSI for Michigan and Ohio. “However, this sentence should ensure victims around the world that Homeland Security Investigations and our partners in the international law enforcement community are committed to aggressively targeting those engaged in these heinous acts.”

“This defendant's conduct should serve as a warning to parents that offenders are creating fictitious identities to groom, threaten and exploit children on today's popular Internet sites and social media apps,” said David Frattare, Commander of the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.  “Online child exploitation offenders understand the power that these inappropriate images and videos have when it comes to continuing this victimization.”

Australian Federal Police (AFP) Assistant Commissioner Debbie Platz said alarmingly, the volume of reports concerning the sexual exploitation of children is increasing and the appetite for the vile material can lead to vulnerable children suffering devastating harm.  “Today’s outcome sends a strong message to child sex offenders that you are not anonymous online,” Assistant Commissioner Platz said. “It does not matter where you live, or if you are in a different country to your victims, police will track you down and prosecute you.  The partnership forged between HSI and the AFP in countering child exploitation on a global level was pivotal to the successful outcome in this matter.”

Australian Border Force Commander, Investigations, Graeme Grosse said this result was a great example of international partner agencies, working together to protect children on a global scale.

“The ABF has assisted our international partners in catching and bringing this individual to justice who was actively seeking out children with the intent to exploit and abuse them for his own gratification.” he said.  “Anybody who is involved in this type of activity should know that there is nowhere to hide and the international law enforcement community is actively seeking you out to ensure are stopped and you face the full force of the law.”

This investigation was conducted by Homeland Security Investigations, the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, HSI-Canberra, the Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Carol M. Skutnik.

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Contact

Bridget M. Brennan
(216) 622-3810
bridget.brennan@usdoj.gov

Updated December 19, 2019

Topic
Project Safe Childhood