"Through our partnerships with state, local and other federal law enforcement agencies, ICE will continue to vigorously investigate child exploitation cases like this one and ensure that these kinds of predators feel the full weight of the law," said Susan McCormick, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Homeland Security Investigations in Tampa, Fla.
Evidence presented at the two-day jury trial in Pensacola established that between Dec. 3, 2009, and April 22, Leightey engaged in Internet chats with undercover officers posing as the parents of an 11-year-old girl.
Over the course of more than 26 chats, Leightey made plans with the undercover officers to travel to Pensacola for the purpose of having sex with the fictitious 11-year-old child.
As part of his efforts to induce the "child" to have sex with him, on April 12, Leightey sent the undercover agents images of himself engaged in sexually explicit conduct, with the understanding that these would be shown to the "child."
On April 22, Leightey traveled to Pensacola, where he met the undercover agents at a local restaurant. On his arrival, Leightey told the agents that he was worried he might be walking into an episode of "To Catch a Predator," and expressed relief that this was not the case. The agents identified themselves as law enforcement and placed Leightey under arrest.
In addition to the travel charges, Leightey was also convicted of use of a computer to entice a minor to engage in sexual activity, and attempt to transfer obscene material to a minor.
The defendant faces a minimum sentence of 30 years up to a maximum of life in prison in addition to statutory fines and the possibility of a lifetime period of supervised release following the completion of any prison sentence.
Sentencing is set for Oct. 12 before Senior U.S. District Judge Lacey Collier.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lorena Vollrath-Bueno and Tiffany Eggers.
The 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.
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.
This case was a brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by U.S. Attorneys' offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.