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Child Exploitation
02/20/2013

Sacramento businessman sentenced to more than 24 years on child pornography and sex tourism charges

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A Sacramento businessman previously convicted of pornography and child sex tourism charges has been sentenced to 24 years and five months in prison, following a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

James E. Johnston, 71, was sentenced Wednesday by Chief U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. In May 2012, a federal jury convicted Johnston of conspiring to produce child pornography, two counts of receiving child pornography, possession of child pornography and traveling in foreign commerce with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct. He has been in custody since his conviction. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kyle Reardon and Todd Leras. The California Department of Justice performed the computer forensic analysis.

"This defendant went to great lengths to prey on vulnerable children overseas," said U.S. Attorney Ben Wagner. "Those who would travel abroad for the purpose of sexually exploiting children should know that we will be no less determined in bringing them to justice than we are those who abuse children in this country."

"This sentence 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 of 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."

At sentencing, Judge England stated that the nature and circumstances of Johnston's crime, and the need to deter others warranted the lengthy sentence. Addressing Johnston's travel abroad, Judge England stated that the defendant made "extensive efforts … to go to countries where [sex trafficking of minors] takes place," and that he went multiple times. Concerning Johnston's downloading and possession of child pornography, Judge England said that Johnston's conduct created a market for child pornography and that market "creates greater victimization."

According to testimony presented at 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. The website informed customers that its content was illegal and instructed them to say that their credit card had been stolen if they were contacted by law enforcement. 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.

Soon afterwards, according to evidence presented at trial, Johnston began an online relationship through Yahoo Messenger with a woman in the Philippines. During the course of this relationship, Johnston engaged in extensive discussion about acquiring photographs of underage girls with whom he would like to have sex, and his future plans to travel to the Philippines in order to have sex with minors.

On Aug. 12, 2006, Johnston told the woman he would be arriving in Manila Sept. 14, 2006, and staying at the Mandarin Oriental. He went on to instruct her 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 agents executed a search warrant at Johnston's residence Sept. 6, 2006, seeking evidence of his illegal purchase of child pornography in February.

This investigation was 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.