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Justice News

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Tacoma woman sentenced to 6 years in prison for molesting child left in her care and making a video for her boyfriend

Couple arrested in 2017 after an alert airline passenger sees disturbing text messages while on flight

Tacoma – A 52-year-old Tacoma resident was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 6 years in prison for distribution of child pornography, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman.  Gail Lynn Burnworth, 53, and her boyfriend Michael Kellar, 59, 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 Benjamin H. Settle said, “You exercised your free will and ultimately put your needs ahead of the needs of children.”

“This defendant committed unspeakable acts, claiming to be under the evil influence of her boyfriend,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Gorman.  “The harm she inflicted to those left in her care is deserving of prison and supervision that keeps her away from children.”

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.

Writing to the court, prosecutors noted that Burnworth’s claims that she acted under the sick control of Kellar does not mean she should be returned to the community. Burnworth “is no different than a loaded firearm sitting on a counter: in the wrong hands, something terrible could happen. And like that firearm, Burnworth lacks both the ability and the fortitude to intercede to prevent that harm. Just as the safest place for a loaded weapon is a locked safe, the safest place for Burnworth is a prison,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.

“Protecting children is one of the FBI's most noble missions. In this case, the mission included local partners as well as a vigilant private citizen which led to the rescue of two children from unspeakable abuse.  Thanks to this work, Ms. Burnworth will be able to reflect on her choices from behind bars,” said Donald Voiret, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Seattle Field Division.

On September 25, 2019, Kellar pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Produce Child Pornography and access with intent to view child pornography.  In February 2020, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Following his prison term, he will be on lifetime supervised release and will be required to register as a sex offender.

Burnworth will be on 10 years of supervised release following her prison term and will also be required to register as a sex offender.

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 was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew Hampton and Marie Dalton.

Topic(s): 
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 May 18, 2021