This lengthy prison sentence resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Fargo Police Department, and the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigations (ND BCI).
Dustin Howard Muscha, 33, of Moorhead, Minn., was sentenced Jan. 8 by U.S. District Judge Ralph R. Erickson to 360 months in federal prison for sexually exploiting minors, and producing and possessing child pornography.
After he completes his prison term, Muscha will also serve a lifetime of supervised release. He must also register as a sex offender, and pay a $400 special assessment to the crime victim’s fund. Restitution to the victims will be determined at a later date.
U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon, District of North Dakota, said, "This conviction and stiff sentence are a great example of the outstanding work done every day by our Project Safe Childhood team here in North Dakota. Law enforcement officers from Fargo Police Department, North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation and federal Homeland Security Investigations and our Project Safe Childhood prosecutor worked cooperatively to identify the victims in this case within a matter of hours of the discovery of the illegal images. The resulting sentence is one that should serve as a stark warning to those who would exploit children in our community."
"This conviction serves as a stern warning about the consequences awaiting child predators who target the most vulnerable members of our communities," said William Lowder, special agent in charge of HSI St. Paul. "Protecting our children from predators remains an HSI priority, and we will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to identify, arrest and bring these criminals to justice."
This case came to the attention of law enforcement after Muscha lost his cellphone while attending a concert at the Fargo Dome Sept. 29, 2012. The phone was found by a private citizen who turned it over to the Sprint retailer located in Fargo. In an attempt to identify the owner of the cellphone, the manager at Sprint turned on the phone and ultimately discovered child pornography images. The Sprint manager immediately turned over the cellphone to law enforcement authorities who learned that the number assigned to the cellular phone was registered to Muscha.
That same day, ND BCI began conducting a forensic examination of the cellphone that revealed hundreds of child pornographic files, including four videos Muscha produced depicting three different prepubescent girls engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
The investigation revealed that Muscha created the four videos between April 2011 and September 2012. Specifically, he produced two videos in Minnesota, and the remaining two videos in North Dakota. HSI special agents and the ND BCI conducted further investigation and successfully identified and located the three girls in the videos.
The following day, a search warrant was executed at Muscha’s residence where copies of the child pornographic files were located, as well as additional child pornography files.
Muscha was immediately arrested and a second search warrant was executed at a storage shed that Muscha maintained in North Dakota. Additional video files were seized from this storage shed, including a fifth video that Muscha produced in 2002 in Moorhead, Minn., depicting yet another prepubescent child engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Klemetsrud Puhl, District of North Dakota, prosecuted this case.
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.
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.