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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Utah

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Project Safe Childhood: Comprehensive Strategy Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation Operating At Full Speed In Utah

SALT LAKE CITY – Project Safe Childhood, a unified and comprehensive strategy to combat child sexual exploitation, continues to operate at full speed in Utah.  Initiated in May 2006, Project Safe Childhood (PSC) in Utah continues to bring together statewide law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute cases and raise the level of public awareness and accountability of sexual predators in our communities.

“We have very serious problems with child sexual exploitation in Utah. Fortunately, a strong team of experienced prosecutors and investigators remain committed to protecting child victims and holding perpetrators accountable,” U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said today.

“While the pandemic has exacerbated the challenges in protecting children, there has been no slowdown in our efforts. Our investigations and prosecutions of new exploitation cases continue to move forward with determination,” Huber said.

Huber said that as a result of the pandemic, prosecutors have also been engaged in opposing the early release of PSC defendants, who are serving lengthy federal prison sentences based upon egregious offense conduct.  These compassionate release motions, if granted, could result in significant reductions in the sentences imposed in the case.

Over the last several years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah has prosecuted approximately 55 cases a year involving the production, possession, and distribution of child pornography and coercion and enticement of minors in Utah. These cases result from investigations conducted by members of the FBI’s Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force.  This task force was formed in June 2016 to ensure a rapid, effective response to federal crimes against children and the victimization of children by online predators. These investigations, including chat operations conducted by the task force, account for the majority of cases charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office also takes cases referred by the Utah Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. 

“Sadly, when it comes to the sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of children, there's never a shortage of work for our special agents and partners.  The FBI's Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force in Utah, Idaho, and Montana receives and responds to hundreds of cases each year.  As more kids are spending time online, the case load is even greater right now,” said Special Agent in Charge Paul Haertel of the Salt Lake City FBI.  “Parents and guardians need to keep a close eye on their kids’ online activities because any child, no matter the age or demographic, can be a victim.  Keeping our children safe will always be a top priority for the FBI and our task force."

Members of the task force include Adult Probation and Parole, Clearfield, Layton, Lehi, Park City, Roy, Salt Lake City, Syracuse, and Tooele police departments, the Davis County Sheriff’s Office, the Davis County Attorney’s Office, the Salt Lake District Attorney’s Office, the Weber County Sheriff’s Office, the Weber County Attorney’s Office, the Utah Department of Public Safety, the Dixie State University Police Department, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

State and federal prosecutors routinely coordinate on prosecutions when cases are referred by agents or law enforcement officers.  Generally, state prosecutors handle the hands-on sexual abuse portion of the investigation while the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah undertakes the prosecution of any connected production, distribution and possession of child pornography or enticement of a minor. This coordination is effective because federal sentencing guidelines allow for enhanced sentences of repeat sex offenders and prosecutors can seek imposition of lifetime supervision of a defendant once they finish their prison sentence. 

PRODUCTION OF CHILD PORNOGRAPHY:

2016:   United States vs. Lyman Dale Black

Black was sentenced to 300 months in prison, followed by lifetime supervised release, after pleading guilty to one count of production of child pornography and one count of distribution of child pornography. Black traded child sexual abuse material and through live stream chats Black sexually abused his 14-month-old victim. Black was also convicted in state court for the sexual abuse of the victim. This case is an example of the coordinated efforts with our state partners in holding offenders accountable for all conduct involved in the exploitation of children in our community. This case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in St. George.

2017:   United States vs. Geoffrey James Cheney

Cheney was sentenced to 300 months in prison, followed by lifetime supervised release, after pleading guilty to production of child pornography. Cheney sexually abused an infant child and then distributed images of the sexual abuse to law enforcement during an undercover online operation.

2018:   United States vs. Nathan Ward

Ward was sentenced to 262 months in prison, followed by lifetime supervised release, after pleading guilty to production of child pornography. Ward, an obstetrician-gynecologist, live streamed the sexual abuse of his victim, who was between 12 and 14-years-old, with another sex offender, Robert Edwin Francis, who was also identified and convicted in federal court. Ward was also convicted for the sexual abuse of the same victim in state court. This case is an excellent example of the close working relationship the U.S. Attorney’s Office has with our state prosecuting agencies. A prosecutor in the Davis County Attorney’s Office, cross-designated as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, played a significant role in this case.

2019:   United States vs. Dennis Andreasen

Andreasen was sentenced to 180 months in prison, followed by lifetime supervised release, after pleading guilty to production of child pornography. Andreasen recorded the sexual abuse he perpetrated on his 6-year-old victim. This case is an example of our coordinated efforts with state prosecuting agencies. Andreasen was also convicted of the sexual abuse in state court.

2020:   United States vs. Eduardo Ponce

Ponce was sentenced to 300 months in prison, followed by lifetime supervised release, after pleading guilty to production of child pornography. Ponce recorded the sexual abuse of his victim. Ponce was also convicted of the sexual abuse in state court where he was sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of 25 years to life.

2020:   United States vs. Michael Travers

Travers was sentenced to 210 months in prison, followed by lifetime supervised release, after pleading guilty to production of child pornography. Travers, a long haul truck driver from Mississippi, participated in the production of sexually explicit images of an 8-year-old child.

POSSESSION OF CHILD PORNOGRAPHY: 

2017:   United States vs. Donald Ray Fritcher

Fritcher was sentenced to 330 months in prison, followed by lifetime supervised release, after pleading guilty to distribution of child pornography.  Fritcher, a previously twice convicted sex offender, distributed child sexual abuse material that included images and videos of Fritcher sexually abusing two minor girls. This investigation was a coordinated effort with Homeland Security Investigations and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

2018:   United States vs. Jason David Lott

Lott was sentenced to 132 months in prison, followed by 240 months of supervised release, after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography. Lott, who had two previous sex offender convictions, was found to be in possession of child sexual abuse material of infants, toddlers, and prepubescent children.

2020:   United States vs. Aaron Scott Smith

Smith was sentenced to 120 months imprisonment, followed by lifetime supervised release, after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography. Smith, a prior convicted sex offender, possessed child sexual abuse material.

COERCION AND ENTICEMENT OF A MINOR:

2018:   United States vs. Christopher Lambert

Lambert was sentenced to 80 months in prison, followed by 120 months of supervised release, after pleading guilty to travel with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct. Lambert traveled from New Mexico to Utah to meet a 15-year-old female he met online with the intent to engage in sexual activity. He then transported the female minor back to New Mexico where Lambert engaged in illegal sexual activity with her.

2018:   United States vs. Skyler Mark Hansen

Hansen was sentenced to 150 months imprisonment, followed by 120 months of supervised released, after pleading guilty to sex trafficking of a minor. Hansen, a long haul truck driver, admitted that over a two-year period, he coerced a minor to engage in sexual acts with him in exchange for money.

2019:   United States vs. Sean Timothy O’Neill

O’Neill was sentenced to 120 months in prison, followed by 240 months supervised release, after pleading guilty to attempted enticement of a minor and possession of child pornography. O’Neill, via Facebook, attempted to entice a minor under the age of 18 to engage in illegal sexual activity. O’Neill moved from Michigan to Utah and continued in his efforts to persuade the minor to engage in illegal sexual activity. O’Neill was also found to be in possession of child sexual abuse material during the course of this investigation. This case was prosecuted in federal court in St. George.

2020:   United States v. Lyle Reveral Leifson

Leifson was sentenced to 120 months in prison, followed by lifetime supervised release, after pleading guilty to attempted coercion and enticement of a minor. Leifson, a prior convicted sex offender, arranged to meet with someone he believed was a 13-year-old minor to engage in illegal sexual activity. This is an example of the proactive efforts of law enforcement in undercover online operations in our communities.

COMPASSIONATE RELEASE CASES  

United States vs. John Dennis Bowen

Bowen was sentenced to 120 months in prison, followed by 180 months supervised release, in February 2020 after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography. Bowen possessed a large amount of child pornography, distributed child pornography on his YouTube account, and live streamed a video feed of female children being sexually assaulted by adult men. U.S. District Judge Richard Shelby denied relief because Bowen had not demonstrated the existence of extraordinary and compelling reasons despite Bowen claiming he had several underlying medical conditions that put him at risk if infected with COVID-19. However, even if Bowen had demonstrated the existence of extraordinary and compelling reasons, Judge Shelby found that Bowen was a danger to the community based upon the conduct in this case and his criminal history, which included prior sexual abuse convictions.

United States vs. Aaron Elliott

Elliott was sentenced to 72 months in prison, followed by 60 months supervised release, in 2015 after pleading guilty to sex trafficking of children. Elliott advertised and arranged for a female minor to engage in commercial sex acts with clients of his escort service in exchange for money. Elliott sought relief claiming he had serious health conditions that put him at risk if infected with COVID-19. Judge David Nuffer found that Elliott had failed to demonstrate that his circumstances constituted extraordinary and compelling reasons to justify compassionate release. In addition, U.S. District Judge Nuffer found that the conduct of the offense and Elliott’s criminal history also did not support granting the relief.

United States vs. Darin Fronk Clark

Clark was sentenced to 180 months in prison, followed by 120 months of supervised release, in 2013 after pleading guilty to Production of Child Pornography. Clark induced his victim into engaging in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing sexually explicit material. Although Clark claimed to suffer from several chronic medical conditions that put him at risk if infected with COVID-19, the medical conditions did not constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons to warrant relief. In addition, relief was denied because Clark was found to be a danger to the community if released.

United States vs. Chad Ryan Huntsman

Huntsman was sentenced to 270 months in prison, followed by lifetime supervised release, in 2016 after pleading guilty to production of child pornography. Although Huntsman sought release based on his health condition and the COVID-19 pandemic, Judge Ted Stewart found that Huntsman had not exhausted all of his administrative remedies. However, even if Huntsman had exhausted his administrative remedies, Judge Stewart found that Huntsman was a danger to the community and he would not be released.

Topic(s): 
Project Safe Childhood
Component(s): 
Updated December 16, 2020