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Federal Child Pornography Charges Often Involve Federal Surveillance of Online Communications, Personal Email Records, Stored Computer Files

Child pornography (possession or promotion) is a serious felony under both federal statute (18 USC Section 2256(B)(8)) and Texas law (Texas Penal Code Section 43.26) and law enforcement in the Dallas area continues to target their investigations into this type of crime.

In these cases, government access to computer information without the person’s knowledge and communicating online with targets by agents pretending to be someone else is often involved although the details of how the online investigations are handled is not readily apparent from news coverage or government press releases.

Legal issues involving search and seizure as well as due process and rights to privacy are all concerns in these cases of computer record reviews by law enforcement and federal agencies – as the public is becoming more aware these days in light of the recent revelation of federal compiling of email, phone, and search records by the National Security Agency.

Consider the following:

1. Erika Perdue – Undercover FBI Agent, File Sharing Leads to Arrest

Last year around this time, headlines were made when Dallas socialite Erika Perdue was arrested by federal agents on federal child pornography charges. The federal investigation involved agents connecting with Ms. Purdue under her screen name of “classyb****” through online file sharing and once the unsuspecting Ms. Purdue had shared lots of photographs and videos with the undercover officers, she was met at the door by federal agents who then grabbed even more photographs and videos from her computer’s hard drive in their search of her home. Perdue’s trial has been continued several times; currently, trial is set for October 2013.

2. Operation Orion – Worldwide Web Homeland Security Investigation Leads To 190 Arrests

In June 2012, the federal government arrested 190 people in “Operation Orion,” where people were arrested not only in the Dallas area, but in other states (like Florida) and even other countries (like Spain). Here, federal agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations Unit (HSI) announced that their “…month-long, nationwide operation targeting individuals who possessed, received, transported, distributed, advertised or produced images or videos of child pornography,” had resulted in these arrests, however how the agents tracked down these online images or videos is unclear – other that the federal investigation involved online investigation tactics designed to connect illegal images with individuals possessing or promoting them from their computers.

3. FBI EMail Investigation Leads to June 2013 Plea Deal for Michael Bodie and Latona Long in Fort Worth Federal Court on Distribution of Child Pornography

This week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced that Latona E. Long, 27, of Greenville, Texas, and Michael M. Bodie, 41, of North Richland Hills, Texas, pled guilty to one count of distribution of child pornography in federal court after being arrested by FBI agents after the agents searched Bodie’s home on a warrant authorizing them to search based upon his Yahoo! Email account. The federal agents had knowledge that this account was being used to send and receive images of child pornography, and Bodie admitted that he was using that email account for that purpose. And Bodie told authorities that he was emailing with Latona Long whom he knew as “LL”.

In turn, federal agents went to Long’s home to question her on the Yahoo! Email account and Long, according to the FBI release, told the officers that she used Yahoo Instant Messenger to communicate online with “MB” (Bodie’s online name) and that she did send him an image of child pornography. These arrests were part of the national Project Safe Childhood investigation of the US Department of Justice.

4. June 2013 Sentencing of 2 Tarrant County Men in Unrelated Child Pornography Cases After Online, File Sharing Investigation by Homeland Security and FBI

This week, Fort Worth federal trial judge Terry R. Means sentenced two men, both from Tarrant County, to long prison terms after each had entered into plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s office after being arrested on federal child pornography charges. These were two unconnected cases, both the result of Homeland Security/FBI investigations.

David Wayne Hatcher of Richland Hills, Texas, was sentenced to 108 months incarceration in federal prison on a guilty plea to 2 counts of possession of child pornography. Hatcher was arrested by Homeland Security agents after they entered his home on a federal search warrant and took his computer and backup storage, which the officers discovered had videos of child pornography stored on the drives.

Kristopher D. King of Euless, Texas, was sentenced to 132 months incarceration in federal prison on his guilty plea to 1 count of transportation of child pornography. Here, the FBI entered King’s home on a federal search warrant, questioning King who admitted that he had been using a peer-to-peer file sharing program where people shared child pornography images and where FBI agents later discovered videos and images of child pornography on King’s computer’s external hard drive.

Federal law enforcement agencies not only surf the web looking for child pornography, their agents can (and do) enter into online communications with people, without identifying themselves as being law enforcement. Their goal: to get computer records as evidence to substantiate an arrest. In these situations, it is extremely important from a defense perspective to insure that their actions have been undertaken within the spirit and the law of federal and state constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure and protections of a person’s right to privacy – and to defend against any encroachments on those rights. For more information, see our web page on child pornography issues.

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