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Justice News

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Lutheran Pastor Arrested In Godfrey, Charged With Distributing Child Pornography

A federal criminal complaint was filed late on Friday, June 19, against a Madison County pastor.
Steven P. Tibbetts, 61, was charged with one count of knowingly distributing child pornography in
December 2019. At the time the complaint was filed, Tibbetts was employed as the head pastor at
Resurrection Lutheran Church in Godfrey, Illinois. His attorney, Bill Lucco, told prosecutors this
afternoon that on account of the charge pending against him, Tibbetts has been “released of all
duties, pastoral or otherwise, at Resurrection Lutheran.”

According to the complaint, the investigation of Tibbetts began in August 2019 when the
photo-sharing website, Tumblr, provided a cyber tip line report about one of its user accounts to
the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). The account was searched by law
enforcement and allegedly found to contain images and videos of nude minors engaging in sexually
explicit conduct. The complaint alleges that NCMEC also received a tip from Twitter in February
2020 that one of its users had uploaded two images of suspected child pornography.

Investigators were allegedly able to trace the Tumblr and Twitter accounts back to Tibbetts’ home,
where a federal search warrant was executed on June 18. An initial review of Tibbetts’ computer
allegedly revealed the presence of additional child pornography images and videos, and agents
subsequently arrested Tibbetts at his home without incident.

This afternoon, Tibbetts made his initial appearance at the federal courthouse in East St. Louis.
After holding a preliminary hearing, United States Magistrate Judge Mark Beatty found probable
cause to support the complaint and ordered Tibbetts to be placed on electronic monitoring and
released on a $10,000 unsecured bond pending trial. A trial date has not been set.

Distributing child pornography over the internet is a federal crime that as a first offense carries
a maximum punishment of 5-20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and a lifetime term of supervised
release.

A complaint is merely a formal charge against a defendant. Under the law, a defendant is presumed
to be innocent of a charge until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to the
satisfaction of a jury.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in 2006
by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.
Led by the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and
Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate,
apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue
victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.usdoj.gov/psc. For
more information about internet safety education, please visit www.usdoj.gov/psc and click on the
tab “resources.”

The ongoing investigation is being conducted by the FBI. Significant assistance was provided in the
early stages of the investigation by the Peoria (I linois) Police Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Hoell is prosecuting the case.

Updated July 7, 2020