This investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and Corpus Christi Police Department's Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force.
Harley Michael Peterson, 23, admitted that he began communicating with a child he knew to be 15 years old starting April 1 and continuing through Aug. 4, 2012. He met the child online with their contact primarily occurring on a social networking website and an online computer gaming community website. Their communications eventually progressed to telephone calls.
Peterson and the child chatted explicitly about his desire to have sex with the child who clearly identified herself as a 15-year-old girl. As the communications continued, Peterson agreed to travel from his home in Ohio to Corpus Christi to have sex with the child.
On Aug. 3, 2012, the girl was reported as a runaway by relatives. Through examination of her online activities, relatives were able to determine her whereabouts and those of Peterson, who was subsequently arrested in Corpus Christi.
"This case illustrates the lengths child predators will go to take their inappropriate relationship from text to talk to what they hope will be physical contact," said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of HSI Houston. "Sadly, today's technology in the hands of a predator with access to children has put our children at greater risk than ever before. HSI will continue to work tirelessly to protect our kids and brings their abusers to justice."
Senior U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey accepted Peterson's guilty plea; he set sentencing for Dec. 16. At that time, Peterson faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a possibility of life imprisonment as well as a $250,000 fine. He will remain in custody pending that hearing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lance Duke, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.
This investigation is 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.
A criminal complaint is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.