Richland County Boy Scout official arrested and charged production of child pornography after surreptitiously recording children changing
A Richland County man affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America was arrested and charged in federal court with production of child pornography after he surreptitiously recorded children changing.
Thomas Close, 39, of Shelby, was charged with sexual exploitation of children and receiving and distributing child pornogrpahy. The investigation is ongoing.
According to an affidavit filed in the case:
Homeland Security Investigations agents received information from the Cyber Crimes Center regarding videos taken of minor boys changing before or after swimming at the YMCA in Sandusky.
A review of several videos revealed they were recorded at the YMCA facility in Sandusky, which sometimes rented its pool to the Boy Scouts, inside teepees used at the Firelands Scout Reservation in Wakeman, as well as inside the bathroom of a home that appeared to have a swimming pool.
Investigators met with Boy Scouts of America officials in Cleveland, whose area includes seven counties. Due to the fact that all of the photos appear to revolve around changing before or after swimming, Boy Scout officials alerted investigators to an incident report from June 2017 documenting an occurrence at the Firelands Scout Reservation they felt could be related. The report was made by a den leader regarding a Boy Scouts of America staff member named Thomas Close, also known as “Aqua Joe,” according to the affidavit.
Close is associated with Boy Scout Troop 406 and has a pool in his back yard.
HSI investigators went to Close’s home on Nov. 1. Upon viewing his bathroom, they realized it is the same bathroom depicted in one of the videos. Close admitted to making the videos and said he created videos between 2011 and the summer of 2018, according to the affidavit.
He also admitted to downloading child pornography and said he had approximately five terabytes of child pornography on his computer, according to the affidavit.
“This case was solved because of good investigative work but also because a parent who was trained to look for signs of suspicious activity raised their concerns to Scout leadership,” said U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman. “We all have an obligation to be aware of what is taking place around us and let authorities know when there are concerns.”
“This individual is accused of violating his position of trust with the Boy Scouts and as a teacher to exploit and take advantage of young people under his supervision," said Steve Francis, special agent in charge of HSI for Michigan and Ohio. "The exploitation of children is reprehensible, and HSI has highly skilled and dedicated special agents to investigate child exploitation crimes to ensure that we identify and arrest perpetrators while protecting our most vulnerable population, our children."
If convicted, the defendant’s sentence will be determined by the Court after review of factors unique to this case, including the defendant’s prior criminal record, if any, the defendant’s role in the offense and the characteristics of the violation. In all cases the sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum and in most cases it will be less than maximum.
This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the Shelby Police Department. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Carol M. Skutnik.
A charge is only an allegation and 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.
Anyone with knowledge of the man’s unsupervised contact with children should contact HSI at 216-749-9602.