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Press Release

Joplin Man Sentenced to Life in Prison for the Sexual Exploitation of a 4-Year-Old Child

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Missouri

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A Joplin, Missouri, man has been sentenced in federal court for the sexual exploitation of a 4-year-old child victim.

Anthony Leon Helsel, 32, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge M. Douglas Harpool on Tuesday, Aug. 25, to life in federal prison without parole.

On Sept. 24, 2019, Helsel pleaded guilty to one count of the sexual exploitation of a minor and one count of the sex trafficking of a minor.

The investigation began in September 2018 when law enforcement received two CyberTips that Helsel was offering a 4-year-old child for sex through the KIK application, and that Helsel had uploaded suspected child pornography to his Facebook account. In October 2018, Kentucky law enforcement provided information that Helsel also offered images of child pornography to an undercover law enforcement officer in Kentucky, as well as to other members of a KIK group.

Officers executed a search warrant at Helsel’s residence on Oct. 2, 2018. Helsel admitted that he had taken pornographic photos of the child victim, that he had been sending child pornography to others and receiving child pornography from them, and that he had talked to others about them having sex with the child victim. Helsel also admitted that he had shared videos of him sexually assaulting the child victim to multiple users on KIK.

According to court documents, Helsel created hundreds of images and videos of the child victim’s sexual abuse. He repeatedly sent images and videos of him sexually assaulting her to many other KIK users over the internet. Investigators also found images of child pornography produced by Helsel with a one-year-old infant. 

At the time officers arrived at Helsel’s residence to execute the search warrant, he was conversing with another user on KIK, Gary McKinney of Joplin. 

McKinney was sentenced on Feb. 26, 2020, to 15 years in federal prison without parole. McKinney, who pleaded guilty to receiving and distributing child pornography, was an officer with the Joplin Police Department for about seven years until May 20, 2006. He also worked for a short time as a police officer in Webb City, Missouri, and Duquesne, Missouri. He owned and operated Gary McKinney Plumbing Services at the time of his arrest.

According to court documents, the child victim reported that both Helsel and another individual sexually assaulted her.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ami Harshad Miller. It was investigated by the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force and Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), 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 . For more information about Internet safety education, please visit and click on the tab "resources."

Updated August 27, 2020

Project Safe Childhood