Child exploitation charges filed in several cases as part of Project Safe Childhood
Criminal charges were filed in federal court against two men for sexually exploiting children, law enforcement officials said.
Charges in the cases, which are not related, coincide with the 10th anniversary of Project Safe Childhood, the Justice Department’s program to combat the sexual exploitation of children, both online and in person.
Eric Shotwell, 41, of Minerva, was charged with crossing state lines to engage in sexually explicit conduct with a minor after police recovered a missing 14-year-old Missouri girl at his home in Stark County.
The girl was reported missing on March 11. Police determined the girl was using the “TextNow” app on her phone and traced it to Shotwell’s home on West 1st Street. The girl was recovered on March 17 and Shotwell was arrested, according to court documents.
The girl told investigators she met Shotwell on a dating site she was on to make new friends. She texted with Shotwell for two months before he wanted to meet in person. She stated Shotwell provided nude photos of himself and she then sent nude photos of herself. He then picked her up at a pizza shop in Missouri. They returned to Ohio and Shotwell engaged in sexual acts with the girl even though he knew she was 14, according to court documents.
The girl told investigators that Shotwell became violent at his home, punching her, slapping her, pushing her into a wall and calling her a “stupid bitch” and “stupid whore”. He placed chains around feet and neck, tightening the chains until she passed out. Investigators found chains in Shotwell’s bedroom when they searched his home, according to court documents.
In another case, James D. Sullivan, 58, of Cleveland, was charged with one count of attempted production of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography. Federal agents searched his computer after he was arrested for filming girls and women in the shower at Geneva State Park on July 18. The search revealed Sullivan used the laptop to view child pornography and images of children being sexually assaulted, according to court documents.
At the time of his arrest, Sullivan was on probation after having served more than 25 years in state prison for raping a 12-year-old girl, photographing the act, and assaulting other child victims, according to court documents.
A grand jury this week indicted Richard Purnell, 55, of Parma, on one count of sex trafficking of children. Purnell knowingly solicited a minor to engage in commercial sex acts between October 2015 and May 6, 2016. He sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl who was advertised on the web site backpage.com. These assaults continued after the girl turned 14, according to court documents.
Experts offer the following tips for parents and guardians about how to help their children avoid being exploited:
- Talk to your kids about the topic from an early age and establish open lines of communication.
- Know what your child is looking at, and who they’re talking to.
- Think beyond “stranger danger” – as our relationships are more social-media focused, some kids don’t think of someone online as a stranger, even if they’ve never met in person.
- Parents should not be afraid to technology. Educate yourself about apps like kik and whisper, which allow users anonymity and don’t verify ages. And find out your child is using.
- Monitor your children’s use of the internet and their phone; keep your computer in an open, common room of the house.
- Tell your kids why it’s so important not to disclose personal information online.
- Check your kids’ profiles and what they post online.
- Report inappropriate activity to the web site or law enforcement immediately.
- Explain to your kids that once images are posted online they lose control of them and can never get them back.
- Only allow your kids to post photos or any type of personally identifying information on websites with your knowledge and consent.
- Trust your gut and parental intuition.
For more information for both parents and children about how to avoid being exploited, go to: www.justice.gov/ndoh/defending-children, www.justice.gov/psc, or www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/vc_majorthefts/cac
Federal, state and local law enforcement regularly investigate and prosecute child exploitation cases.
This morning in Toledo, former Northwood High School teacher Frank Stefan, 59, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for possession of child pornography. Stefan had on his computers nearly 2,000 videos and images of children being raped and sexually assaulted by adults. He also admitted that he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student in 2005 and attempted to have a relationship with another student during the 2009-10 school year, according to court documents.
David Guevara, Sr., 35, of Youngstown, was charged Wednesday via criminal information with transportation of a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity. Guevara met a 15-year-old girl last summer. He engaged in a sexual relationship with the minor and traveled with her to Philadelphia, even though he knew she was just 15 years old. Guevara stated that it was his intent to have a child with the minor and to move her and the baby to Mexico, according to court documents.
“These are the latest in a steady stream of cases in which people exploit our children,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Carole S. Rendon. “Law enforcement will continue to do all it can to lock up these predators. Parents, guardians and relatives need to do all they can to know who children are communicating with, whether it’s over their phones, on their computers on in person.”
“Child predators, like Eric Shotwell, build trust through coercion techniques to ultimately satisfy their perverse, criminal desires,” said Stephen D. Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cleveland Office. “The FBI commends the Great Plains, Missouri, and Minerva Police Departments for their swift efforts in rescuing this young girl, and the Canton Police Department for their hard work on this case. The FBI will continue efforts of supporting and collaborating with our law enforcement partners in order to educate and protect our children.”
“Sexual exploitation of children is an alarming concern in our society,” said Secret Service Special Agent in Charge of the Cleveland Field Office, Craig Wisniewsky. “The Secret Service is committed to work closely with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and our law enforcement partners to identify and prosecute these predators.”
“The Stefan case is particularly troubling because of the defendant's prior position of trust with children,” said Marlon Miller, Special Agent in Charge of HSI Detroit. “HSI actively works with our law enforcement partners in our shared fight against those who sexually exploit children. Removing these predators from our communities and bringing them to justice is a responsibility we take very seriously. We applaud the court's significant prison sentence.”
“The law enforcement partnership to protect children from predators cuts across all jurisdictional lines because we all are deeply committed to our mission,” said Holly Welsh, chief prosecutor of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. “Our Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force involves hundreds of police agencies and prosecutors around the state, it receives significant funding from the Department of Justice, and it works hand in hand with the FBI and federal prosecutors to root out and punish those who exploit children. We also work on the prevention side to help parents, teachers and children recognize the dangers that of the Internet and use it safely.”
Shotwell is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael A. Sullivan following an investigation by the FBI. James Sullivan is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Carol Skutnik following an investigation by the United States Secret Service and Ohio State Highway Patrol. Purnell is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bridget Brennan following an investigation by the FBI. Stefan was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracey Tangeman following an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations. Guevara is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Benedict Gullo following an investigation by the FBI, the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office and the Youngstown Police Department.
A charge is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
If convicted, the defendants’ sentences will be determined by the court after review of factors unique to this case, including the defendants’ prior criminal records, if any; their role in the offenses; and the characteristics of the violations. In all cases, the sentences will not exceed the statutory maximum and, in most cases, it will be less than the maximum.