LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The former owner of a Heber Springs gymnastics studio pleaded guilty Thursday to receipt of child pornography following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Matthew Tinkle, 27, of Heber Springs, was initially indicted with two counts of receipt of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography. Pursuant to the plea agreement, Tinkle pleaded guilty to count one of the indictment, which charged receipt of child pornography. In exchange for his guilty plea, the United States dismissed the remaining counts in the indictment. Stipulations in the plea agreement included enhancements for use of a computer, for abuse of a position of trust, and for engaging in a pattern of activity involving the sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor. Tinkle will be required to register as a sex offender.
"This case illustrates the necessity of keeping lines of communication open and active with your children," stated United States Attorney Christopher R. Thyer, Eastern District of Arkansas. "We place our children in the care of others with the intent that their lives are safe and their innocence protected. The vast majority of the time, that is the case. When it is not, it is often a parent who discovers the violation. Thankfully, law enforcement was contacted and the end result is that this child predator will be serving federal time as well as state time. We take the safety and security of our children seriously. Together, we will work to ensure that those who seek to prey on our children are not given the opportunity to abuse our sons and daughters."
"Child predators who use a position of trust in order to groom and abuse their victims are truly the worst of the worst," said Raymond R. Parmer Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New Orleans. "The victims of heartless degenerates like this defendant are exploited through their faith, trust and innocence: values we hold dear in our children that can be damaged beyond repair by the perversions these monsters subject them to. This case serves as an unfortunate reminder to parents that child predators are often hidden in plain sight, seeking access to their victims by any means available."
The charges in the indictment were based on an investigation that began Dec. 20, 2012, when the Heber Springs Police Department was called to a residence in Heber Springs, concerning a 13-year-old female who had been molested. The investigation revealed that Tinkle, who was 25 at the time, had molested the minor on at least two occasions.
At all times relevant to the investigation, Tinkle was the owner of Tink's Tumblers, a gymnastics studio in Heber Springs. The minor met Tinkle after attending "open gym" at Tinkle's gymnastics studio. The minor said that she and other kids would hang out with Tinkle at the gym and, on occasion, Tinkle would also give the minor and other kids rides to and from home.
During the investigation, the minor stated that she told Tinkle on multiple occasions that she was 13 years old. The minor also revealed that Tinkle did not charge her for using the gymnastics studio. The minor then informed investigators that she had sent nude photographs of herself to Tinkle via text message.
An iPhone seized from Tinkle revealed images of the minor that met the federal definition of child pornography. The minor also stated that Tinkle sent her photographs of himself nude.
On Feb. 27, 2014, Tinkle pleaded no contest in the Circuit Court of Cleburne County, Arkansas, to rape. In exchange for his plea, the prosecuting attorney agreed to recommend that the court sentence Tinkle to a term of incarceration for a period of 120 months.
Tinkle faces at least five years up to no more than 20 years imprisonment on the federal conviction, plus five years to life of supervised release and up to a $250,000 fine.
This investigation was conducted under HSI's Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 10,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2013, more than 2,000 individuals were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.
HSI is a founding member and current chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.