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Child Exploitation

US Navy chief petty officer sentenced to 5 years for possession of child pornography

SEATTLE - A U.S. Navy chief petty officer stationed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln was sentenced to five years in federal prison and 10 years of supervised release after an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) revealed he was trading child pornography over the Internet.

Billy Wayne Welch, 44, of Arlington, Wash., pleaded guilty in March 2009 to charges of possession of child pornography. He came to the attention of ICE agents after he was identified as having traded child pornography with an individual living in Florida.

Welch was the senior aviation ordinance chief aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, which is homeported in Everett, Wash. He had served 26 years in the Navy at the time of his arrest in December 2008.

According to records filed in the case, ICE agents served a search warrant at Welch's home and searched his quarters aboard the aircraft carrier. Computer equipment was seized and forensically analyzed. More than 16,000 images and 600 videos of child pornography were found.

"Viewing images of child pornography is a despicable act with serious consequences," said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Seattle. "ICE places a priority on investigating those in positions of trust and authority in our nation who prey on these innocent victims."

At sentencing, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Robert S. Lasnik said it is important to remember the victims in child pornography cases are revictimized each time the abusive images are viewed by new individuals.

In asking for a significant sentence, the prosecutor noted that she was "particularly concerned by Mr. Welch's inability to recognize and appreciate the harm done to the helpless child victims portrayed in his collection. Mr. Welch characterizes his viewing of extensive amounts of child pornography, including videos where he actually watched the brutal victimization of children, as only 'fantasy.'"

The charges against Welch are the result of Operation Predator, an ongoing ICE initiative to identify, investigate, and arrest those who prey on children. ICE encourages the reporting of suspected child predators 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 & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or www.cybertipline.com.