Two Men Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison for Child Exploitation Crimes
BECKLEY, W.Va. – Lawrence Lee Hart, 61, of Raleigh County, and Steven Alfred Bennett, 57, of Kanawha County, were each sentenced today to 10 years in prison for crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children. Both face 20 years of supervised release following their prison sentences and each must register as a sex offender.
According to court documents and statements made in court, Hart, of Glen Daniel, contacted another user on a dating app on October 1, 2021, who told Hart that she was only 13 years old and located in Beckley. After learning her age and that she was a virgin, Hart offered to teach her about sex. Over the next month, Hart engaged in extensive text and phone conversations with the girl during which he instructed her on masturbation, oral sex, and sexual intercourse. Hart also asked her to send him a sexually explicit image of herself and he sent her sexually explicit photographs of himself. On November 5, 2021, Hart was arrested when he went to meet the minor to engage in sexual activity. Hart pleaded guilty to attempted enticement of a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity.
Bennett, of Montgomery, admitted that he responded to a Craigslist ad in October 2020 from a woman allegedly located in Beckley. During their conversations, Bennett arranged to meet the woman in Beckley and pay $150 to engage in sexual activity with an 11-year-old girl who the woman had stated was her daughter. Bennett skipped the arranged meeting after he saw a local news story about a man getting arrested for responding to the same Craigslist ad. A subsequent search of Bennett’s home located computers that contained suspected child pornography, including an image of a prepubescent female that Bennett had received during a 2016 Skype conversation. Bennett pleaded guilty to receipt of child pornography.
United States Attorney Will Thompson made the announcement and commended the investigative work of the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Violent Crimes Against Children Task Force, the FBI Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force, the West Virginia State Police, and the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office.
United States District Judge Frank W. Volk imposed the sentences, citing the deplorable and horrendous conduct in each case. Assistant United States Attorney Jennifer Rada Herrald prosecuted the cases.
These cases were prosecuted as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative of the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorney’s 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 those who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia. Related court documents and information can be found on PACER by searching for Case Nos. 5:21-cr-254 and 5:21-cr-20.