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Child Exploitation

Former pastor sentenced to 17 years in prison on child pornography convictions

Defendant was pastor at First United Methodist Church in Royse City, Texas

DALLAS - The former Pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Royse City, Texas, was sentenced Monday to 17 years in federal prison, following his guilty plea in March to two child pornography offenses. The sentence was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney James T. Jacks, Northern District of Texas; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted the investigation.

Steve Richardson, 36, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Sam A. Lindsay, who also ordered a lifetime of supervised release and required Richardson to register as a sex offender. Richardson has been in federal custody since he was arrested on Sept. 24, 2008, by ICE agents on related charges in a federal criminal complaint.

Richardson pleaded guilty to one count of transporting and shipping child pornography, and one count of possessing child pornography.

"ICE agents target and investigate anyone who produces, possesses or shares child pornography," said John Chakwin, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Dallas. "However, ICE prioritizes its investigations against anyone who may have direct contact with children, as was the case with this former pastor." Chakwin oversees 128 counties in north Texas, and the State of Oklahoma.

In documents filed in court, Richardson admitted that on Dec. 20, 2007, he logged into his Google "Hello" account and sent an image of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Google Hello software is an Internet service that enables users to trade images quickly, connecting directly (peer-to-peer) to each other's computers specifically to share pictures. Since the connection was peer-to-peer, there was no limit to the number and size of pictures that could be shared. Once a connection was created, the individuals simply selected the pictures they wished to share - an individual picture, or a folder containing thousands of photos. While connected, the individuals could also engage in chat conversations, thus overcoming the traditional limitation of peer-to-peer software by facilitating both live chat and exchange of large volumes of files simultaneously.

Richardson, using his Google Hello identity "cowboysspades," communicated over the Internet with an undercover ICE agent in Seattle, Wash. During that communication, Richardson sent an image of child pornography and requested images of child pornography from the undercover agent. When the agent provided an excuse for being unable to send images, Richardson terminated the chat.

On Sept. 24, 2008, ICE agents executed a search warrant at First United Methodist Church in Royse City and seized a desktop computer from Richardson's office that contained images of child pornography. Richardson admitted possessing an external hard drive that contained images of child pornography.

Richardson admitted that he traded child pornography with other Google Hello users and that he possessed more than 600 images of child pornography, including sadistic, masochistic or other violent images involving minors.

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 11,600 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.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lisa Miller and Aisha Saleem, Northern District of Texas, prosecuted the case.