Keith Nathan Symmank, 46, of Houston was indicted on Jan. 29 and arrested the following day. Symmank has been in federal custody since his arrest. The court handed down its decision Feb. 5 following a detention hearing, finding that Symmank posed a danger to the community if released on bond. He pleaded not guilty to possessing child pornography. The trial is set for April 6 before U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore.
The federal charge resulted from an investigation conducted by ICE offices in Houston and Chicago, with assistance provided by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center in the United Kingdom (UK).
ICE agents and investigators in the UK identified a website in March 2008 that posted images of child erotica and served as a meeting place for individuals with a sexual interest in children. The website allowed members to communicate with each other, and to post comments concerning the posted images. Members of the website earned "points" that allowed them more access by posting images and comments on the website. During Thursday's hearing, the court heard testimony that UK investigators were able to obtain a copy of the server and to identify members of the website. Symmank was allegedly one of the members identified.
Based upon information provided by the UK investigations, Houston ICE agents executed a search warrant on Oct. 1 at Symmank's residence. Testimony introduced at the hearing revealed agents found two desktop computers, one external hard drive and a number of CDs containing images of child pornography. A forensic analysis of Symmank's computer and external media discovered 2,417 images and two videos of child pornography.
The court's finding of dangerousness was based in part on testimony that demonstrated Symmank had downloaded and fantasized about the images from websites associated with child pornography. Additionally, testimony was introduced that photographs of young teen girls taken at a local mall were also found on his computer.
If convicted of possessing child pornography, Symmank faces a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Additionally, the court can impose a life term of supervised release and a number of special conditions designed to protect children and prohibit the use of the Internet.
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, including more than 1,090 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.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Stabe, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.