BEAUMONT, Texas — A 23-year-old former youth pastor pleaded guilty Tuesday to producing child pornography, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Trevion Lechay Ethridge, of Newton, Texas, pleaded guilty to enticing a minor to record child pornography.
According to information presented in court, between November 2012 and March 2013, while Ethridge was the youth pastor at a Newton County church, he persuaded a minor to record pornographic images using a smartphone, and to send these images to Ethridge.
A federal grand jury indicted Ethridge Oct. 3, 2013. Trial began in this case May 12 and was recessed after two days. When trial resumed June 3, Ethridge changed his plea to guilty. Under oath, he admitted to sending pornographic images and videos of himself to the minor, and enticing the minor to send pornographic images and videos in return.
Ethridge faces a maximum of 30 years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not been set.
The Newton and Beaumont police departments also participated in this investigation.
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 10,000 individuals for crimes against children, including producing and distributing online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking children. In fiscal year 2013, HSI agents arrested more than 2,000 individuals under this initiative.
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. 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.
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.