KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A local man, who was arrested on the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas in August, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to crossing state lines to have sex with a child.
This latest guilty plea is part of an extensive international investigation into child sexual exploitation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Robert Poe III, 38, of Kansas City, Kan., pleaded guilty Feb. 19 to three counts of interstate transportation of a minor for immoral purposes.
"Predators sexually exploit children for their own perverse personal gratification," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of HSI Chicago, which includes Kansas City. "This guilty plea further demonstrates that HSI and our law enforcement partners will use every tool at our disposal to stop these predators in their tracks, and protect their innocent victims."
The federal investigation into Poe's crimes began in May 2012 when one of his former victims came forward as a result of media attention following the arrest of Michael Arnett, one of Poe's friends and a quasi-co-conspirator. Arnett pleaded guilty in federal court last week to similar crimes.
This victim explained that around 1997, when he was about 10 years old, he and his brother, a cystic fibrosis patient, met Arnett who was a volunteer driver at a non-profit corporation that provides medical care and social services for children. In 1998, after gaining their friendship, Arnett subsequently introduced Poe to the pair; shortly afterwards they began molesting the brothers.
This victim described how Poe held a gun to his head to force him to perform oral sex. He said that the first time Poe molested him was at Poe's father's house in Shawnee Mission, Kan. He said that Poe and Arnett often took the brothers out of town on weekend trips to sexually molest both boys. These trips were to St. Louis, Mo., Bennet Springs, Mo., and Oklahoma City, Okla.
Other charges Poe pleaded guilty to include the April 2000 sexual assault of a 7-year-old boy that he was babysitting. It was alleged that Poe showed the boy photos of nude children and then made the boy perform oral sex on him.
Another incident occurred in July 2000, again while Poe was babysitting. In this incident it was alleged that Poe held a gun to the boy's head and forced him to perform oral sex. These incidents were reported to local police in November 2000, but the investigation that followed did not produce enough evidence to support formal charges at the time.
Poe's sentencing is set for May 20. He faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 on each of the three counts. In a separate but related federal case, on Feb. 11, Arnett pleaded guilty to one count of producing child pornography and is set for sentencing May 13. There is no parole in the federal prison system.
Poe's guilty plea is part of Operation Holitna, an ongoing HSI-led investigation that originated in Boston. In 2010, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts issued a warrant for, and HSI Boston arrested, Robert Diduca on child pornography production charges. He was convicted and subsequently sentenced to 18 years in federal prison in June 2012. Forensic analysis of Diduca's computer led investigators to the Netherlands where a Dutch national was arrested and charged with production, distribution and possession of child pornography, as well as the sexual assault of 87 minors. Since that time, a worldwide network of offenders has been, and continues to be, unraveled, which includes Arnett. Defendants and victims continue to be identified around the world. To date, more than 160 children have been rescued and 51 perpetrators arrested worldwide as a result of Operation Holitna.
This investigation was also part of Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI 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. HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423 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, 1-800-843-5678.
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.