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Child Exploitation

Federal jury convicts Fort Worth man for enticing girl to engage in sexual acts

FORT WORTH, Texas - Following a one-day trial, a federal jury convicted a local man on Monday for enticing a child following a one-count indictment. The conviction was announced by U.S. Attorney James T. Jacks of the Northern District of Texas; the case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Fort Worth Police Department.

Robert M. Rhodes, 29, appeared before U.S. District Judge John McBryde and faces a maximum statutory sentence of not less than 10 years and up to life in prison, a $250,000 fine and a lifetime of supervised release. Sentencing is set for July 9; Rhodes has been in custody since his arrest in January.

The government presented evidence that in October 2009, an officer with the Fort Worth Police Department, working in an undercover capacity and posing as a 13-year-old girl, entered a Yahoo! chat room and was contacted by Rhodes using the screen name of "rhodesrobert80." During the course of several online chats during the next few days, the chats became sexual in nature with the defendant describing what sexual activities he would like to do with someone whom he thought was a 13-year-old girl.

Further evidence presented by the government showed that on multiple occasions, Rhodes attempted to persuade, induce or entice the 13-year-old to have sex with him. On Oct. 5, Rhodes contacted the undercover officer to set up a meeting in Fort Worth. The meeting was set in a public location. Once Rhodes arrived at the scene, he was arrested.

When Rhodes took the stand, he admitted during cross-examination that he believed he was going to meet a 13-year-old girl and that he was "sad" when she did not show up for their meeting.

Additional evidence was presented that the month before he was arrested, Rhodes also participated in an online conversation with someone who stated she was 15 years old. After Rhodes contacted her, he asked her location, if she had any pictures, and if she could physically describe herself - all after he learned she was a minor. After the 15-year-old described herself, Rhodes asked her if she was looking for a boyfriend.

This investigation was part of Operation Predator, a nationwide ICE 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. Since Operation Predator was launched in July 2003, ICE agents have arrested more than 12,000 individuals.

ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity 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 and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or http://www.cybertipline.com.

This case was also brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice, to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by U.S. Attorneys' offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex C. Lewis, Northern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.