DENVER — A Denver man was sentenced Wednesday to serve 21 years in federal prison for producing child pornography by sexually assaulting a minor in his care.
This sentence was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer, District of Colorado, and Acting Special Agent in Charge John Eisert of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Denver.
Michael Yellowhorse, 29, of Denver, Colorado, was charged by criminal complaint Dec. 23, 2014. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver Jan. 7, 2015. He pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson March 3, 2016; he was sentenced Dec. 7. The day Yellowhorse was originally scheduled to be sentenced, he cut off his court-ordered ankle monitor and fled. He was ultimately caught and arrested in Texas following a high-speed chase after he crashed into a civilian vehicle. Judge Jackson then ordered him held without bond pending a new sentencing date.
Judge Jackson also ordered Yellowhorse to serve 10 years on supervised release. He is also required to register as a sex offender. Yellowhorse, who appeared at the sentencing hearing in custody, was remanded at its conclusion.
According to court documents, including the stipulated facts contained in the defendant’s plea agreement, due to investigative work of international law enforcement, including Queensland Police Service (QPS) in Australia, and HSI’s Cyber Crimes Center (C3) Child Exploitation Investigations Unit (CEIU) Victim Identification Program (VIP), sophisticated investigators identified a photo-sharing website that was being used to facilitate the exchange of child pornography. After observing a user profile offering to exchange child pornography, a QPS investigator operating in an undercover capacity contacted Yellowhorse by email. After exchanging emails, Yellowhorse sent the investigator an image of child pornography. Information from the website obtained by a foreign law enforcement agency was able to be used to identify Yellowhorse. A search warrant executed at the home where Yellowhorse resided resulted in the seizure of laptops, cellphones, and an item that was observed in the background of the child pornography picture.
Yellowhorse’s laptop contained child pornography images, as did the cellphone found on his person. During the course of this investigation, it was determined that the defendant had produced the child pornography image that was sent to the QPS investigator. A forensic review of the child pornography images included images with an adult male hand, later determined to be Yellowhorse’s. Yellowhorse had access to the minor child depicted in the images, who was in his care when the child pornography was created. Forensic examination showed that Yellowhorse produced child pornography depicting the minor child on two separate dates. The minor child depicted in the images was 8 years old and appeared to be sleeping while the pictures were taken. Examination of Yellowhorse’s cellphone and laptop also reflected the fact that he possessed more than 250 child pornography images depicting children other than the minor child under his care. Forensic evidence also showed that thousands of times he visited the website in question that started this investigation.
“Thanks to the outstanding cooperation between international law enforcement and HSI, and their extraordinarily complex computer forensics work, HSI was able to identify this child pornographer who made numerous efforts to remain anonymous,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer. “Wherever you are, if you’re involved in exploiting children, we will find you, you will be prosecuted, and you will face the same consequence as Yellowhorse.”
Yellowhorse was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alecia L. Riewerts, District of Colorado.
This investigation was conducted under HSI’s Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 14,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2015, nearly 2,400 individuals were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative and more than 1,000 victims identified or rescued.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Hearing impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196.
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-THE-LOST.