Tip leads to discovery of child-porn ring

Monday, February 9, 2004

MOUNT VERNON, Ill. -- Soon after a 13-year-old runaway told police she had posed for pornography in a ramshackle apartment, police knocked on its rickety door. What they found inside stopped them cold.

Computers and CDs in the apartment held an enormous collection of child pornography. That led them to a child-porn ring they say involved a staff member of a boarding school for the learning disabled, a middle-school basketball coach and at least four others.

Six men have been charged so far and police say more arrests are likely.

The suspects invited troubled teenagers to parties, enticed them into sex and filmed it, said Mount Vernon police chief Chris Mendenall. In most cases, the teens appeared to be on drugs, he said.

The adults then sold the films on the Internet, Mendenall said.

"It was disgusting. They manufactured this not only for their own gratification, but to profit from it," he said.

Mendenhall said it is the largest collection of child porn "I've seen produced in our own community."

It's not yet clear how many minors were involved, but authorities don't believe any attended the schools where two of the suspects worked. The youngest alleged victim is believed to be around 13, Mendenall said.

The groups met at the Mount Vernon apartment of 41-year-old restaurant worker Anthony Banks, or 40 miles away at the rundown home of David Cameron, the technology director at Brehm Preparatory School for the learning disabled in Carbondale, the police chief said.

The teens were pictured having sex with Banks, Cameron and other men, who often peeled money from their pockets at the conclusion, Mendenall said.

Authorities are still sifting through evidence, including seven computers seized from Cameron's home, around the corner from an elementary school.

"I think we've only touched the tip of the iceberg," said Williamson County State's Attorney Charles Garnati. He declined to elaborate.

The arrests, which began Jan. 15, sent a rumble through the triangle of Mount Vernon, Marion and Carbondale.

Police say they don't believe Cameron, 35, a slight man with round, frameless glasses, involved Brehm students, and no pornography was found at the school. He had passed a background check because he had no criminal record, school officials said.

Another suspect, Jerrod Griffith, 21, coached fifth- through eighth-grade basketball at Woodlawn School near Mount Vernon, but authorities said they don't believe any students were involved there, either.

Still, counselors were on hand Feb. 2, Woodlawn's first day back after Griffith's arrest and a week of snow days.

"No one here saw this coming," superintendent Rodney Stover said.

David Poldoian of St. Louis, whose 16-year-old son is one of about 80 students at Brehm, said he is satisfied with how school officials there are handling the scandal by talking with students about it.

"This isn't something you sweep under the carpet," Poldoian said.

Carbondale resident Valerie Breadfort, 33, said she is concerned about her children, who attend public schools. "They could have friends of friends who were involved; we just don't know, do we?" Breadfort said.

Cameron and Banks face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of aggravated criminal sexual assault and child pornography. They were being held on $1.5 million bond each.

Cameron's attorney, John Drew, said his client is innocent and should have a lower bail. "He's never run afoul of the law," Drew said. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

Banks' attorney, James Henson, did not return telephone calls from The Associated Press. Court documents show Banks, like the others, has not yet entered a plea.

Griffith is accused of engaging in sex on one occasion with a 17-year-old, said his attorney, T.J. Parrish. He was released from jail after posting $10,000 bond, and will plead innocent to child pornography charges Feb. 9, Parrish said.

Also charged were Gregory Hall, 18, Gregory Shelton, 24, and Travis Snow, 24, all of Mount Vernon.

Hall was charged with aggravated criminal sexual abuse and child pornography. His attorney, Robert Verhines, declined to comment.

Shelton was charged with possession of child pornography. His attorney, Paul Hillis, did not return a telephone message left by the AP.

Snow was charged with child pornography and an act of prostitution with another adult. Court records show he hasn't hired a lawyer.

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