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Justice News

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, December 15, 2022

Former Joplin Youth Minister Sentenced for Child Pornography

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A former youth minister in Joplin, Mo., was sentenced in federal court today for exchanging pornographic images and videos with a child victim.

Nicholas Lane Stephens, 25, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge M. Douglas Harpool to six years in federal prison without parole. The court also sentenced Stephens to 15 years of supervised release following incarceration.

On March 15, 2022, Stephens pleaded guilty to receiving and distributing child pornography. Stephens was formerly the youth minister at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Joplin.

The investigation began when a Children’s Division investigator received a hotline call reporting that Stephens, a volunteer at the church, was involved in inappropriate relationships with minor females at the church, including the 17-year-old victim identified in court documents as “Jane Doe.”

Jane Doe told investigators she sent nude images to Stephens via Snapchat in December 2019. Stephens sent Jane Doe several pornographic images of himself, as well as pornographic FaceTime videos. Examiners discovered a dozen images and one video of child pornography of Jane Doe on Stephens’s cell phone. There were also numerous messages between Jane Doe and Stephens.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ami Harshad Miller. It was investigated by the FBI, the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force, and the Joplin, Mo., Police Department.

Project Safe Childhood

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 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."

Topic(s): 
Project Safe Childhood
Updated December 15, 2022