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Child Exploitation

Former Houston-area kindergarten teacher pleads guilty to producing child pornography

HOUSTON — A Houston-area man pleaded guilty Tuesday to two counts of producing child pornography, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

The charges against Stephen Wayne Sudduth, 38, of Sealy, Texas, resulted from an international investigation conducted by the following agencies: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Houston, the office of the Caribbean Attaché for Homeland Security, the Texas Attorney General's Cybercrime Unit, the Public Prosecutor's Office in Curacao, a special task force unit in Curacao comprised of Dutch and local law enforcement officers, and the equivalent of the juvenile sex crimes unit of the Curacao Police Corps.

This investigation began in 2009 when the Texas Attorney General's Office received a tip concerning Sudduth. A state search warrant for Sudduth's residence in Sealy was executed July 14, 2009. At that time, officers seized a laptop computer and two external hard drives which all were found to contain child pornography.

During a forensic review of the seized items, officers identified child pornography images that included Sudduth which appeared to have been taken in a classroom. Officers later confirmed the classroom was at a school in Curacao where Sudduth taught kindergarten. Houston HSI special agents were then contacted to handle the international aspect of the investigation.

In December 2009 and May 2010, HSI special agents and a forensic child interviewer traveled to Curacao, and identified and interviewed the children depicted in the images.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas, who accepted the guilty plea, has set sentencing for Nov. 22, 2013, at which time he faces being sentenced to at least 15 and up to 30 years in federal prison, as well as a possible maximum fine of $250,000. After he completes any prison term that may be imposed, Sudduth also faces a maximum of life on supervised release. The court can impose a number of special conditions designed to protect children and prohibit the use of the Internet.

Sudduth has been in custody where he will remain pending his sentencing hearing.

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.