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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Louisiana

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, February 24, 2020

WDLA News Round-Up

Week of February 17, 2020

LAKE CHARLES, La. United States Attorney David C. Joseph announced the resolution of two Project Safe Childhood cases last week, each separately noted.

SENTENCING – JOHN MICHAEL WARD

Westlake Man Sentenced to 60 Years in Federal Prison for Production of Child Pornography

 Ward was the former pastor of Bellview Baptist Church

LAKE CHARLES, La. United States Attorney David C. Joseph announced that John Michael Ward, 45, of Westlake, Louisiana, was sentenced on February 19, 2020, to 60 years in federal prison after pleading guilty in November 2019 to two counts of production of child pornography. U.S. District Judge James D. Cain Jr. sentenced Ward to 30 years for each count, to run consecutively, and a lifetime term of court supervision.

According to information presented to the court, Ward, the former pastor of Bellview Baptist Church in Westlake, sexually abused a minor female for two years, and on two occasions, coerced the minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of capturing sexually explicit videos of the minor. 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations and the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Luke Walker prosecuted the case.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse, launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) also encourage the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at (866) 347-2423. Investigators are available at all hours to answer hotline calls. Tips or other information can also be submitted to ICE online by visiting their website at www.ice.gov/exec/forms/hsi-tips/tips.asp or through the Operation Predator smartphone application www.ice.gov/predator/smartphone-app. Tips may be submitted anonymously.

SENTENCING – JAMES GAHARAN

Former LeGrange High School Teacher Sentenced to Eight Years in Federal Prison for Possessing Child Pornography

LAKE CHARLES, La. United States Attorney David C. Joseph announced that James Gaharan, 56, of Laker Charles, was sentenced on February 19, 2020, by U.S. District Judge James D. Cain Jr., to 97 months in prison for possession of child pornography. Following his imprisonment, Gaharan will be supervised by the United States Probation Office for 10 years and will be required to register with the state sex offender registry in any state in which he lives or works. Gaharan pleaded guilty on September 18, 2019.

According to information disclosed during court proceedings, Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office (CPSO) received a complaint that Gaharan, a school teacher at LeGrange High School, was having a sexual relationship with a student. After an interview with Gaharan, CPSO obtained a court approved search warrant of his residence. When officers arrived at Gaharan’s residence, they discovered a program running on his computer which was in the process of wiping the hard drive clean. At that point the wipe was 96% complete. Officers also found a jump drive in Gaharan’s book satchel. A subsequent forensic examination of the jump drive revealed over 1,500 child pornography images of mainly young, prepubescent children. Gaharan had downloaded these images from the internet.

The FBI and Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office conducted the investigation.  Assistant U.S. Attorney John Luke Walker prosecuted the case.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse, launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.

Those concerned may leave tips with the FBI at tips.fbi.gov. Tips may be submitted anonymously.

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The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

Topic(s): 
Project Safe Childhood
Updated February 24, 2020