James E. Johnston, 70, was also found guilty on two counts of receiving child pornography and on one count of possession of child pornography. The case is the product of an extensive investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California.
"This defendant went to great lengths to prey on vulnerable children," said U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner. "Despite a mountain of evidence against him, he denied it all. The jury saw the truth and convicted him on all charges. Those who commit similar crimes should expect to be prosecuted too."
According to testimony during the trial, in February 2006, Johnston used his credit card to purchase a 20-day subscription to a website offering images and videos of child pornography. This website informed customers that its content was illegal, and instructed them that if contacted by law enforcement regarding their purchase, to say that their credit card had been stolen. This defense was offered by Johnston during trial. During the time of his subscription, Johnston downloaded approximately 300 videos of child pornography, some of which showed scenes of infants and toddlers being sexually molested.
Subsequently, according to evidence presented at the trial, Johnston began an online relationship with a woman identifying herself as Kim Lacson from Manila, Philippines. During the course of this relationship, Johnston engaged in extensive discussion about acquiring photographs of underage women that he would like to have sex with, and his future plans to travel to the Philippines in order to have sex with minors.
"This verdict should serve as a sobering warning for those who mistakenly believe they can evade justice by sexually exploiting children outside this country," said Daniel Lane, assistant special agent in charge for HSI Sacramento. "There can be no place for the abuse of foreign children by our citizens. Homeland Security Investigations will seek to vindicate the rights of those victims no matter how destitute they are or how far they live from our shores."
On Aug. 12, 2006, Johnston told Lacson he would be arriving in Manila Sept. 14, 2006, and staying at the Mandarin Oriental. He then went on to instruct Ms. Lacson that on Sept. 15, 2006, she should "bring [him] young girls two of them," and asked her to send pictures of "young ones for [him] to pick from."
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flight records confirmed that Johnston left San Francisco for Hong Kong Aug. 30, 2006. Testimony from a defense witness showed that as part of this trip, Johnston had made plans to fly to the Philippines. Those plans changed after HSI special agents executed a search warrant at Johnston's residence September 6, 2006, looking for evidence of his illegal purchase of child pornography in February.
Johnston was taken into custody immediately following his conviction. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 18. He faces a sentence of 15 years to life in prison and a $250,000 fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kyle Reardon and Todd Leras are prosecuting the case. Computer forensic assistance was also provided by the California Department of Justice.
The charges stem from HSI's Operation Predator, a nationwide initiative to identify, investigate and arrest those who sexually exploit children, and Project Safe Childhood, a Department of Justice effort launched in May 2006 to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. As part of Operation Predator, 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 and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or http://www.cybertipline.com.
Led by U.S. Attorneys' Offices and the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section in the Justice Department's Criminal Division, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov or call the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California and ask to speak with the Project Safe Childhood coordinator.