URBANA, Ill. - A local man who formerly worked as a youth pastor made an initial appearance in federal court Monday on charges he sexually exploited children. The charges resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Vermilion County Sheriff's Department.
Andrew L. Thomas, 46, of Rossville, Ill., was charged in a five-count indictment returned by a grand jury last week but sealed pending his Sept. 20 court appearance in the Central District of Illinois.
Thomas was ordered to remain in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending trial, which is scheduled for Nov. 29 before Chief U.S. District Judge Michael P. McCuskey.
Each count of the indictment alleges that Thomas, a former youth minister at First Church of Christ in Rossville, produced child pornography by enticing minors to engage in sexually explicit conduct. According to the indictment, Thomas used the following aliases: "Stephanie Danielson," "Kayla Wilson," "Jennifer Martinez," "Jessica Gonzalez," "Justin Danielson," and "Justin Williams." Thomas also used the following email addresses: "email@example.com," "Kaylaw21to@aol.com," "Foryouhopeulike@aol.com," "Luknfrmystudboy2@aim.com," "Stephaniedanielson89@hotmail.com," and "firstname.lastname@example.org".
According to court documents, Thomas allegedly perpetrated a scheme to disguise himself as a female identified as "Stephanie," "Jenn," "Jessica," or "Kayla" through social networking sites, e-mail accounts and text messages using a Trac phone to make contact with boys. Thomas then allegedly and covertly enticed the boys by sending them pornographic images of his female personae to solicit pornographic images of the boys.
The indictment alleges the conduct took place between January 2007 and March 2010.
Anyone with questions or information regarding this ongoing investigation is urged to contact the Vermilion County Sheriff's Department, Investigator Todd Damilano, at (217) 442-4080 or ICE HSI Resident Agent in Charge Mike Mitchell of Springfield, Ill., at (217) 585-9869, ext 221.
If convicted, Thomas faces up to 30 years in prison for each count of sexually exploiting a child. Thomas also faces up to a lifetime of supervised release.
ICE was assisted in the investigation by the Decatur Police Department. The case is being prosecuted in cooperation with the Vermilion County State's Attorney's Office. Members of the public are reminded that an indictment is merely an accusation; the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
This investigation was 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 12,800 individuals.
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.