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Child Exploitation
02/08/2008

Former fire investigator sentenced to 25 years for producing, possessing child porn in Texas

BROWNSVILLE, Texas - A former fire investigator was sentenced here Friday to 25 years in prison for possessing, receiving and producing child pornography. This sentence resulted from a joint investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and local and state law enforcement agencies.

John Craig Zimmerman, 50, of Los Fresnos, Texas, was sentenced in U.S. District Court before Judge Andrew S. Hanen to 300 months in a federal prison.

ICE initiated the investigation after executing a search warrant of Zimmerman's house on Feb. 9, 2007. They discovered DVDs and computer disks containing images of child pornography. ICE agents then conducted a forensic analysis of the seized items. They identified more than 1,170 images and 17 video-clips depicting minors in sexually graphic poses, and adults engaged in sexual conduct with minors ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers. According to the ICE investigation, images were also discovered on Zimmerman's work computer.

Zimmerman was arrested March 9, 2007 without incident at his home in Los Fresnos.

In September 2007, Zimmerman pleaded no contest to two counts of producing child pornography by using or enticing a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct, and one count each of possessing and receiving child pornography. He later sought to withdraw his pleas to the two production counts. U.S. District Judge Hanen granted Zimmerman's motion to withdraw his no-contest plea to the first count of producing child pornography, but not the second.

"The sentence handed down to Zimmerman is significant and fitting for all the terror he imposed on society's most vulnerable citizens, our children," said Jerry Robinette, special agent in charge for ICE Office of Investigations in San Antonio. "ICE remains steadfast and committed to protecting those who can't protect themselves. By working closely with the U.S. Attorney's Office, we will bring to justice those despicable violators."

The investigation started with an anonymous tip to the Brownsville Police Department (BPD) claiming Zimmerman had child pornography images on his work and home computers. The Brownsville Fire Department, where Zimmerman worked as a fire investigator, allowed local police investigators access to the Zimmerman's work computer. After finding a number of images containing child pornography, investigators contacted ICE for its specialized assistance.

Sentencing began Feb. 6 and culminated Feb 8. Judge Hanen heard testimony from several law enforcement officers regarding Zimmerman's attempts to destroy evidence and flee to avoid apprehension. A Harlingen psychiatrist testified that Zimmerman was competent to stand trial and be sentenced; he also testified that Zimmerman admitted to taking pictures of naked children. Zimmerman later denied this admission to the probation officer assigned to his pre-sentence investigation.

Four family members and friends testified on Zimmerman's behalf, asking the court for a light sentence.

Judge Hanen imposed the following prison sentence: 240 months for producing child pornography, 240 months for receiving child pornography via the internet, and 120 months for possessing child pornography. All imposed sentences are to be served concurrently, except for a 60-month sentence on count three, which is to run consecutively; the total aggregate sentence is 300 months. There is no parole in the federal prison system.

In addition to the concurrent prison terms, the court ordered Zimmerman to supervised release for the rest of his life. After Zimmerman completes his sentence, he cannot have any contact with children, or access to the Internet; and he must undergo sex offender treatment, and register as a sex offender.

Zimmerman, who has been in custody since March, will remain with the U.S. Marshals Service until he's transferred to a designated U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to begin serving his sentence.

This case was investigated by ICE, the Brownsville Police Department and Cameron County District Attorney's Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Terra Bay, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.

This case was being brought as part of "Project Safe Childhood," a nationwide Department of Justice initiative designed to protect children from online exploitation and abuse. Led by the U.S. Attorney's Offices, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.

This investigation was also part of "Operation Predator," a nationwide ICE initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including: those who travel overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal alien sex offenders, and child sex traffickers. Since Operation Predator was launched in July 2003, ICE agents have arrested more than 10,700 individuals, including 1,087 in Texas.

ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. This hotline is staffed around the clock by investigators.

Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or http://www.cybertipline.com.