Middle District of Florida Leads Nation in Project Safe Childhood Prosecutions
|U.S. Attorney’s Office December 31, 2009|
ORLANDO, FL—United States Attorney A. Brian Albritton today announced that the Middle District of Florida led the nation for fiscal year 2009 in cases charged as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative of the Department of Justice designed to protect children from online exploitation and abuse. Project Safe Childhood began in May 2006. It marshals federal, state, and local resources to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, and to identify and rescue victims. In each of the 93 U.S. Attorney’s Offices throughout the country, an Assistant United States Attorney serves as a Project Safe Childhood Coordinator, dedicated to training regarding and prosecution of Project Safe Childhood cases.
From October 1, 2008 through September 30, 2009, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, with the close assistance of numerous federal, state, and local agencies, brought 86 Project Safe Childhood cases—the most of any district in the country. The charges in those cases vary by defendant, but they include conspiring to travel in interstate commerce to engage in illicit sexual conduct, production of child pornography, distribution and receipt of child pornography, and possession of child pornography. During fiscal year 2009, Orlando was the seat of the Middle District of Florida’s Project Safe Childhood Coordinator. At the end of this release are summaries of significant Project Safe Childhood cases prosecuted out of Orlando in fiscal year 2009, which are indicative of cases throughout the Middle District.
Project Safe Childhood cases in the Middle District of Florida are investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Secret Service, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the United States Marshals Service, the Florida Attorney General’s Child Predator CyberCrime Unit, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The cases profiled in this release were investigated by those agencies, along with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, and the Kissimmee Police Department. Quotes from agencies involved in Project Safe Childhood:
U.S. Attorney A. Brian Albritton stated, “Prosecuting those who seek to harm and exploit children is a top priority for the United States Attorney’s Office. I want to congratulate the outstanding team of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies that worked together to lead the nation in Project Safe Childhood cases. Since the creation of Project Safe Childhood, the Middle District of Florida has prosecuted more than 250 cases involving the exploitation of children. The 86 cases charged in fiscal year 2009 represent a continuation of my Office’s commitment to bring cases that will serve to combat the increase in sexual predators using the Internet to entice and sexually exploit our children.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Steven Ibison said, “We have aggressively pursued those who thrive on exploiting and victimizing the innocent. Together with our local, state, and federal partners throughout Central and Southwest Florida, we will continue to do everything in our power to protect our nation’s greatest asset—our children!”
Susan McCormick, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Tampa said, “Under ICE’s Operation Predator we are committed to identifying, investigating and arresting child predators and sexual offenders.The numerous individuals that victimized children and have been ultimately prosecuted in the Middle District of Florida is a testament to the excellent working relationships between law enforcement here in Florida. ICE will continue to join the Department of Justice and law enforcement agencies around the world to fight child exploitation crimes.”
(ICE’s Operation Predator assists the Department of Justice’s Project Safe Childhood.)
Barney Morris, Assistant Inspector in Charge, United States Postal Inspection Service, Tampa Field Office, Miami Division stated, “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to investigating and prosecuting those that would seek to use the U.S. mails as a conduit to exploit innocent children.”
Pete Cajigal, Assistant Chief Deputy, United States Marshals Service stated, “We are very grateful to have an aggressive U.S. Attorney’s Office that is willing to actively prosecute child predators under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act as part of Project Safe Childhood.”
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said, "I am immensely proud of the work my Tampa CyberCrime Task Force has accomplished this year with our federal, state and local partners. Our work with Project Safe Childhood is an excellent model of cooperation among law enforcement agencies and with the help of Florida's finest law enforcement officers, we will continue making Florida a safer place for our children.”
Summaries of Cases:
1. RHONDA BAYS, 39, Eustis, Florida, pled guilty on August 19, 2009 to one count of production of child pornography and one count of conspiring with another to travel across state lines to have sex with a minor. According to the facts adopted by the Court at sentencing, BAYS arranged for her boyfriend, Tanner Stickney, to travel from Washington, D.C. to Orlando, Florida on May 15, 2009 to have sex with a 2-year old child that BAYS knew. After her arrest on May 16, 2009, FBI agents discovered that BAYS and Stickney had previously successfully carried out a similar plan and had filmed Stickney molesting a 4-year-old child. On December 10, 2009, BAYS was sentenced to 24 years, four months in federal prison.
2. JOSE O. RIVERA, 41, Kissimmee, Florida, was convicted after a trial by jury on February 3, 2009 of attempting to persuade a minor to engage in sexual activity through the use of a computer via the Internet. From June 1, 2007 to June 5, 2007, RIVERA communicated with an undercover officer with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office who was acting as a 14-year-old female. During the communications, RIVERA engaged in sexually explicit conversations with the undercover officer, which culminated with RIVERA’s arrest on June 5, 2007, after he traveled to Brevard County from Kissimmee to meet with the minor. RIVERA was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison on May 6, 2009.
3. SEAN PETERS, 49, Orlando, Florida, was convicted by a jury on October 16, 2009, of one count of possession of child pornography. According to evidence presented at his trial, PETERS had spent over twenty years in law enforcement, first as a uniformed police officer and then as an investigator in the State Attorney’s Office for the Ninth Judicial Circuit. PETERS resigned from the State’s Attorney’s Office in June 2007 when ICE agents executed a search warrant for his home and seized a computer from his office and a CD found in a DVD player in his bedroom. Forensic examination of the computer hard drive and the CD uncovered hundreds of images of child pornography. Sentencing is set for January 15, 2010. PETERS faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison.
4. SHAUN SHIVA RAMROOP, 28, Orlando, Florida, was found guilty by a federal jury on May 29, 2009 of two counts of distribution of child pornography, two counts of receipt of child pornography, and one count of possession of child pornography. At trial, the United States presented evidence that RAMROOP used file sharing software to trade images depicting the sexual exploitation and abuse of prepubescent children by using file sharing software. An FBI agent downloaded a total of 41 images of child pornography from RAMROOP’s computer on two separate days. Subsequently, law enforcement agents seized RAMROOP’s computer and found 110 images and 25 videos of child pornography stored on his computer. They also found a floppy disk in his bedroom containing images of child pornography. RAMROOP’s sentencing is scheduled for February 2, 2010. He faces a mandatory minimum of five years to a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for each of the distribution and receipt convictions and a maximum of 10 years in federal prison for the possession conviction.
5. RICHARD R. CHELLETTE, JR., 60, Sanford, Florida, pled guilty to distribution and possession of child pornography on July 29, 2009. According to the facts set forth in a notice filed by the United States in connection with CHELLETTE’s guilty plea, CHELLETTE, who was previously convicted in Seminole County, Florida of exposure of sexual organs, admitted that he shared hundreds of pictures and videos depicting the sexual exploitation and abuse of young children with other computer users over the Internet. Law enforcement officers seized two hard drives and over 100 CD’s and DVD’s from CHELLETTE’s bedroom. CHELLETTE admitted to agents that he had been downloading child pornography during at least the previous five years and that he copied movie and picture files from his hard drive to the CDs and DVDs to make room on his computers. FBI agents located over 1,000 pictures and 787 movies of child pornography on CHELLETTE’s hard drive. He faces five to 20 years in federal prison for the distribution count and a maximum of 10 years in federal prison for the possession count. On December 17, 2009, CHELLETTE was sentenced to 15 years, eight months in federal prison.
6. ROBERT SEWELL BARTH, 57, Orlando, Florida, served as a foster parent and second grade school teacher for years. According to the facts set forth in a notice filed by the United States in connection with BARTH’s guilty plea, an overseas investigation uncovered that BARTH had purchased child pornography from an Italian website. BARTH’s account information was later turned over to the FBI, who located 1,139 images of child pornography and 25 video files of child pornography on BARTH’s computer. Forensic evidence showed that BARTH viewed child pornography in the morning before going to school to teach young children shortly before the FBI confronted him in December. BARTH admitted to downloading the child pornography on the Internet and to being addicted to pornography. BARTH pled guilty to receipt of child pornography on September 28, 2009, and he is scheduled to be sentenced on December 16, 2009. On December 16, 2009, BARTH was sentenced to six years, six months in federal prison.
7. BERNE SCHMIDLKOFER, 65, Cocoa Beach, Florida, is a former teacher. On April 29, 2009, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children sent a Cybertip to ICE and the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office regarding distribution of child pornography. ICE special agents executed a state search warrant on June 19, 2009. As set forth in the affidavit to a criminal complaint to obtain a warrant for his arrest, forensic examination of SCHMIDLKOFER’s computer and further investigation revealed that SCHMIDLKOFER had victimized two children and that he had produced images of child pornography on December 28, 2008, December 30, 2008, and January 1, 2009, and that he distributed images of child pornography on April 11, 2009. SCHMIDLKOFER pled guilty to one count of production of child pornography and one count of distribution of child pornography on August 24, 2009. Sentencing has been set for February 9, 2010. SCHMIDLKOFER faces 15 years to 30 years in federal prison for the production count and five years to 20 years in federal prison for the distribution count.
8. JENNIFER YOUNG, 29, Oviedo, Florida, pled guilty to distribution of child pornography on July 16, 2009. As set forth in her plea agreement, YOUNG admitted that she distributed videos depicting the violent and sadomasochistic sexual abuse and rape of mostly infants, toddlers, and prepubescent children through her America Online (AOL) e-mail account. AOL detected that a user with the screen name boiognapony sent an email containing a movie clip depicting child pornography and notified the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children who then notified law enforcement. Agents traced the Internet address to YOUNG’s home and seized her laptop computer pursuant to a search warrant. YOUNG stored 25 videos and 57 pictures of child pornography on her computer. YOUNG faces a mandatory minimum of five years and a maximum of 20 years in federal prison. Sentencing is scheduled for January 11, 2010.
9. JAMES BERNARD LEEKS, 40, Orlando, Florida, was convicted of child molestation in 2005 in Georgia. As a result of that conviction, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA”) requires that Leeks register as a Sex Offender whenever he changes his residence or place of employment. According to the facts set forth in the charging affidavit for a federal criminal complaint, LEEKS moved from Georgia to Florida in May 2009 and failed to update his Sex Offender registration as required by SORNA. LEEKS was indicted for failure to register as a sex offender on August 5, 2009. If convicted, LEEKS faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison.
10. THOMAS K. TANNER, 55, Orlando, Florida, pled guilty to distribution of child pornography on August 19, 2009. TANNER is a registered sex offender who was previously convicted of exposure of his genitals to a child and failure to register as a sex offender three times. According to the facts set forth in his plea agreement, TANNER agreed in 2008 to share images of child pornography with a computer user who was an FBI agent acting in an undercover capacity. Once the agent connected to TANNER’s computer, he encountered TANNER’s message “Have many boy pics. Once I’m sure of you, I will be happy to share.” TANNER placed over 300 movies and pictures of child pornography in his shared folder for the agent to download. Subsequently, agents seized a computer, external hard drive, and 73 CDs and DVDs from TANNER and found over 14,000 pictures and 774 videos depicting the sexual exploitation, abuse, and rape of prepubescent boys. On December 18, 2009, TANNER was sentenced to 21 years, 10 months in federal prison.
These cases were prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Bruce S. Ambrose, Robert E. Bodnar, Vincent S. Chiu, Sandra W. Deisler, Daniel W. Eckhart, Karen L. Gable, Roger B. Handberg, Daniel C. Irick, Carlos A. Perez, J. Bishop Ravenel, and Tanya Davis Wilson.
For more information about the cases profiled in this release and other Project Safe Childhood cases throughout the Middle District of Florida, please contact Steve Cole. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.
An indictment or criminal complaint is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of the federal criminal laws, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.