Today's sentence is the most recent in an extensive international investigation into child sexual exploitation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The Kansas City, Kan., Police Department assisted with this latest investigation.
Robert Poe III, 39, from Kansas City, Kan., pleaded guilty Feb. 19 and was sentenced to 235 months in federal prison on three counts of traveling from Kansas to Missouri to engage in sex acts with a child.
"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 significant prison sentence further demonstrates that HSI and our law enforcement partners will use every tool at our disposal to stop these predators from victimizing innocent children."
"Protecting children against sexual predators and achieving justice for victims of those crimes are our highest priorities," said U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom, District of Kansas. "In this era of instant communication and interaction in cyberspace the threats to our children continue to grow and evolve."
The federal investigation into Poe's crimes began in May 2012 when one of his former victims came forward following media attention surrounding the arrest of Michael Arnett, one of Poe's friends and a quasi-co-conspirator. Arnett was sentenced to 30 years in prison in federal court last month following his conviction on similar charges.
The victim who came forward 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 Arnett and Poe began molesting the brothers.
This victim also described how Poe held a gun to the boy's 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 sexually molested both boys during weekend trips to St. Louis, Mo., Bennet Springs, Mo., and Oklahoma City, Okla.
According to additional court documents throughout the United States, Arnett was also communicating on the Internet with other child pornography suspects. The following four suspects were communicating directly with Arnett via the Internet and have been arrested and charged as part of this international child pornography investigation: Ronald Brown, 57, of Largo, Fla.; Robert Mucha, 56, of Newton, N.J.; Jason Scarcello, 42, of Anderson, Calif.; and Richard Dates, 67, of Grant, N.M.
Poe was also convicted and sentenced for another sexual assault on a 7-year-old boy while Poe was babysitting in July 2000. Prosecutors in the June 11 court proceedings described how Poe held a gun to a boy's head and forced him to perform oral sex. These assaults were initially reported to local police in November 2000, but the investigation did not produce enough evidence to support formal charges at the time.
This sentence 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 and HSI Boston arrested Robert Diduca on child pornography production charges. He was convicted and subsequently sentenced in June 2012. Forensic analysis of Diduca's computer led investigators to the Netherlands where a Dutch national was arrested and charged with producing, distributing and possessing child pornography, as well as sexually assaulting 87 minors. Since that time, a worldwide network of offenders has been, and continues to be, unraveled. Defendants and victims continue to be identified around the world. To date, more than 160 children have been rescued and 51 perpetrators arrested worldwide – including Poe – as a result of Operation Holitna.
This investigation was also part of Operation Predator, an ongoing 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.