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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Former Port St. Lucie Police Officer Sentenced to Life in Prison for Child Exploitation

A former police officer with the Port St. Lucie Police Department was sentenced yesterday to life in prison by United States District Judge Robin L. Rosenberg in Fort Pierce, Florida.  He had previously pled guilty to multiple federal child exploitation charges.

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Robert C. Hutchinson, Acting Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), Miami Field Office, and John A. Bolduc, Chief, Port St. Lucie Police Department, made the announcement.

Michael Edwin Harding, 28, of Port St. Lucie, was sentenced to life in prison for the charge of attempt to coerce and entice a minor to engage in sexual activity, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2422(b); 240 months for each count of distributing material involving sexual exploitation of minors, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2252(a)(2); 240 months for possession of material involving sexual exploitation of minors, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2252(a)(4)(B); and 360 months for producing child pornography, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2251(a)(e).  All of the sentences imposed will run concurrently.  Additionally, the court imposed a lifetime term of supervised release and Harding will be required to register as a sex offender.

According to filed documents and statements made in court, Harding distributed videos and still images involving the sexual exploitation of minors on three separate dates.  Between July 23, 2015, and August 4, 2015, Michael Harding posted multiple images and videos to a chat room on a popular social media application.  The still images and videos depicted minor children engaging in sexually explicit acts.  The images posted to the chat room were discovered during a forensic examination of a cell phone owned by Harding. 

During the execution of a search warrant at Harding’s house, HSI agents located electronic devices and thumb drives containing hundreds of videos and still images depicting the sexual exploitation of minors.  A large number of the images and videos depicted prepubescent minors engaging in sexual acts with adults. 

Additionally, Harding attempted to coerce and entice a minor to engage in sexual activity over the internet.  Chat messages recovered from Harding’s cell phone memorialized a conversation between the defendant and another individual, wherein they claimed to have custody of minor children whom they offered to exchange for their own sexual gratification.

Harding also produced child pornography by using his cell phone to create a video depicting his sexually explicit contact with a child under the age of 12.  The video was discovered on Harding’s cell phone during a computer forensic examination. 

This case is part of Operation Predator, an international law enforcement initiative, led by ICE-HSI, to combat the sexual exploitation of children.  Through this collaborative effort, law enforcement strives to protect children from sexual predators, including individuals who travel overseas in order to engage in sexual conduct with minors, individuals who possess, trade and produce child pornography, criminal alien sex offenders, and sex traffickers of children.  Anyone with information about suspected child exploitation is encouraged to call 1‑866‑872-4973.  For additional information regarding the initiative and resources, visit www.ice.gov.

Mr. Ferrer commended ICE-HSI for their investigative efforts and the Port St. Lucie Police Department for their assistance with this investigation.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Daniel E. Funk and Russell R. Killinger.  

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov

Topic(s): 
Project Safe Childhood
Updated May 24, 2016