Child sex crimes are increasing in SE Missouri, officials say

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway said she is prosecuting four area men, including a Cape resident.

Child pornography and the sexual exploitation of children appear to be increasing in Southeast Missouri, federal law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway visited Cape Girardeau to highlight the problem and report that her office is prosecuting four area men, including one Cape Girardeau resident, on charges of transporting child pornography via computers and possessing images of children engaging in sexual acts.

A fifth man, Kenneth R. Johnson, 46, of Williamsville, Mo., pleaded guilty Tuesday to producing, transporting and possessing child pornography. The four counts included in his plea mean he could spend the rest of his life in a federal prison, Hanaway said.

The four facing trial on child pornography charges include:

* Kevin D. Otterson, 42, of Cape Girardeau. He faces two counts of transporting child pornography via computer and a single count of possessing child pornography. Otterson served 45 days in the Cape Girardeau County Jail in 2000 on a misdemeanor sexual misconduct charge.

* Christopher Johnson, 27, of Portageville, Mo. He is charged with one count each of transporting child pornography and possessing child pornography.

* Kelly Wilson, 45, of Steele, Mo., charged with one count each of transporting and possessing child pornography.

* Salvatore Fazio, 67, of Mountain View, Mo., who faces one count each of possessing and transporting child pornography and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

"These are among the worst crimes we prosecute," Hanaway said. In all, there are 32 active prosecutions of child pornography originating in the 49 counties included in the Eastern District of Missouri, she said.

Distributing or transporting child pornography carries a mandatory sentence of at least five years. Possession carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. Producing child pornography results in a minimum sentence of 15 years in a federal prison.

The Internet creates a growing market for such images, said Roland Corvington, head of the FBI's St. Louis office. To combat the trend, the FBI set up a Regional Computer Crime Education and Enforcement Group to train local law officers to recognize and find child sex images on computers.

The St. Louis FBI office is currently investigating 50 cases of child pornography, with about a dozen originating in Southeast Missouri, he said.

Hanaway and Corvington were joined at the news conference by Tammy Gwaltney, executive director of the Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence.

Gwaltney's agency helps law enforcement by interviewing children believed to be victims of sexual abuse. The number of such victims has increased from 42 when the agency opened in 1997 to an average of 500 a year, Gwaltney said.

Gwaltney fears there are far more such crimes than her agency sees.

"Sexual abuse is the most underreported violent crime," she said.

Parents can take several steps to protect their children from becoming victims, Hanaway said. Monitoring the use of text messages on cellular telephones and preventing children from using Internet chat rooms are important actions that will thwart predators, she said.

"Instant messaging and chat rooms are where these people go to find their victims," Hanaway said.

To make a federal charge stick, Corvington said, investigators need a clear trail of evidence that traces images back to their source. Cheaper, faster computers make it easier for criminals to keep ahead of law enforcement, he said.

The case against Johnson illustrates how easy making and transporting child pornography has become. His computer hard drive contained more than 600 lurid images of children ranging from infants to 12 years old, and he admitted he had used a video camera to film two girls, ages 7 and 12.

The extra effort needed to find and punish child pornographers is time well-spent, Hanaway said. "These are pictures of real kids being forced to be involved in sexually explicit acts," she said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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