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Justice News

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, February 14, 2020

Tacoma man caught texting on plane about molesting children sentenced to 15 years in prison for conspiring to produce images of child rape

Defendant directed his girlfriend to make sexually explicit images of a child left in her care and collected child pornography

Tacoma – A 58-year-old Tacoma resident was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 15 years in prison for conspiracy to produce child pornography, announced U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran.  MICHAEL KELLAR, and his girlfriend, Gail Lynn Burnworth, 52, were arrested in August 2017, after an alert passenger on a July 31, 2017, flight to San Jose, California, noticed disturbing texts between KELLAR, who was on the plane, and Burnworth, who was in Tacoma.  The investigation revealed the two had produced and shared sexually explicit images of children placed in Burnworth’s care.  At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton said, “This case for me ... has been the most disturbing case that I have had…. (These offenses) beset on society a waterfall of negative repercussions that can never be repaired.”

“I commend the airline passenger who spoke up about the disturbing texts she witnessed on her flight. We all have had that moment when we question: ‘Do I get involved,’” said U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran.  “In this case, that witness triggered the rescue of two small children and the investigation that revealed this defendant to be a predator – collecting images of child sexual abuse.”

According to records filed in the case, after the witness reported her concerns to the airline flight attendants, the flight crew arranged for law enforcement to meet the plane.  KELLAR was questioned by police and ultimately arrested.  A review of his electronic devices showed graphic explicit exchanges with Burnworth discussing drugging and raping the children in her care.

The Seattle Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force was alerted and obtained a Court-authorized search warrant for Burnworth’s residence and electronic devices.  Investigators found sexually explicit images on Burnworth’s devices and found several hundred images of child pornography on KELLAR’s laptop.

“Sexual exploitation of children is particularly heinous, and the FBI has made it a priority to hold those who choose to perpetrate these acts accountable,” said Special Agent in Charge Raymond Duda, FBI-Seattle.  “Mr. Kellar will now answer for his crimes against some of the most vulnerable in our community.  This case demonstrates the FBI will rigorously investigate these crimes and reinforces that victimizing children will not be tolerated by law enforcement.”

On September 25, 2019, KELLAR pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Produce Child Pornography and access with intent to view child pornography.  Following his prison term, he will be on lifetime supervised release and will be required to register as a sex offender.

Burnworth pleaded guilty to distribution of child pornography and will be sentenced March 27, 2020.

Both defendants have been in custody since their arrests in August 2017.

The case is being investigated by the FBI with assistance from the San Jose, California, Sheriff’s Office and the Seattle Police Department Internet Crimes against Children Task Force (ICAC).

 The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew Hampton and Marie Dalton.

Topic(s): 
Cyber Crime
Project Safe Childhood
Contact: 
Press contact for the U.S. Attorney’s Office is Communications Director Emily Langlie at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@usdoj.gov.
Updated February 14, 2020