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Child Exploitation
02/03/2014

Indiana school counselor charged with sexually exploiting minors

MUNCIE, Ind. – A local school counselor, who worked with at-risk youth, was indicted Friday for sexually exploiting minors, announced Joseph H. Hogsett, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana.

These criminal charges resulted from an investigation conducted by the following agencies: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Henry County and Delaware County Prosecutors, the Hamilton County Metropolitan Child Exploitation Task Force, the New Castle Police Department, and the Muncie Police Department.

Darrell Hughes, 55, of Muncie, was charged Jan. 31 in a criminal complaint with one count of sexually exploiting a minor and two counts of attempting to sexually exploit a minor. "The criminal complaint in this case describes a disturbing pattern of predatory behavior from a school official who allegedly targeted the most vulnerable young people under his care," Hogsett said. "Thanks to a great investigative team that stretched across jurisdictional lines, we have ended this abuse. We urge others who may have had interactions with the defendant to contact law enforcement immediately."

Hogsett said those with information regarding the defendant can confidentially contact law enforcement at the New Castle Police Department.

"This case is particularly troubling given the defendant’s position as a counselor working with at-risk youth," said Gary Woolf, resident agent in charge of HSI Indianapolis. "Mr. Hughes allegedly betrayed the trust placed in him by his employer, this community and, most importantly, by the very children he was supposedly helping."

The criminal complaint alleges that on Jan. 15, detectives with the New Castle Police Department received information regarding the sexual exploitation of a minor by an employee of the local school system. Additional investigation by local officials and HSI special agents identified school counselor Darrell Hughes as a suspect.

The complaint describes allegations related to five male victims who had interactions with Hughes dating back to 2008. All five of the alleged victims struggled with disciplinary issues at school, with some of the victims having spent time incarcerated in one of the state’s juvenile justice programs. Because of this, they allegedly came into contact and began interacting with Hughes, who served as a middle and high school counselor.

In the case of Victim 1, Hughes allegedly began regularly providing the boy with cigarettes and money at school, followed by interactions outside of school that included the use of marijuana and alcohol. Hughes allegedly began inviting Victim 1 to spend the night at his Muncie home, where Victim 1 was asked to sleep in the same bed as the defendant. Victim 1 also alleges that Hughes took pictures of him in various states of undress, which the victim was told would be used to make him "a lot of money" as a model.

The criminal complaint also alleges that while staying at the defendant’s home, Victim 1 was urged to take showers, purportedly in order to remove the smell of marijuana. Hughes would allegedly tell the victim to wait so that he could "get the bathroom ready," at which point Victim 1 would be allowed to take a shower. The complaint alleges that when these interactions would take place, Hughes could be found later sitting at his computer.

The complaint alleges that four other minor victims shared similar experiences to Victim 1, and in at least one instance, a minor victim located what they believed to be a hidden camera inside of the bathroom after they were asked to go shower. These cameras were allegedly hidden within clocks and/or watches, and were directed to capture images of the minors undressing and entering the shower. Other victims also allege they received massages from Hughes, were given the drug Ecstasy on some occasions, and in at least one case, the victim alleges that he awoke from what he believes was a sexual assault by Hughes.

A federal search warrant served at Hughes’ residence allegedly revealed a hidden memory card within a plant in the bathroom. An initial forensic analysis of the memory card allegedly revealed images and videos depicting a nude minor victim entering and exiting the shower. Law enforcement also alleges they have located two video-capable wristwatches with additional evidence.

According to Senior Litigation Counsel Steven D. DeBrota, who is prosecuting the case for the government, Hughes faces a minimum of 15 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine if convicted.

This arrest comes as Hogsett has announced a comprehensive crackdown on child exploitation in Indiana known as "Operation Community Watch." This operation allows prosecutors and investigators to use cutting-edge techniques to identify and charge people in Hoosier communities who are engaged in receiving and trafficking child pornography.

Criminal complaints are only a charge and are not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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.

For additional information about wanted suspected child predators, download HSI's Operation Predator smartphone app or visit the online suspect alerts page.

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.