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March 24, 2020New Orleans, LA, United StatesChild Exploitation

Former Louisiana pastor sentenced to 60 years after ICE HSI investigation

NEW ORLEANS – A former Louisiana pastor was recently sentenced to 60 years in prison for two counts of child pornography production following a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Lake Charles investigation.

In coordination with the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office Sex Crimes Unit, HSI Lake Charles special agents determined John Michael Ward, 45, of Westlake, abused a juvenile victim over a two year period and, on two occasions, coerced the minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of capturing sexually explicit videos of the minor. Ward was serving as a pastor of Bellview Baptist Church in Westlake, LA, at the time of his arrest.

U.S. District Judge James D. Cain Jr. sentenced Ward Feb. 19, 2020, to 30 years for each count, to run consecutively, and a lifetime term of court supervision. In addition to the 720 month prison sentence, Ward was ordered to make restitution to the victim, register as a sex offender upon his release, and undergo a sex-offender treatment program that will include drug testing and lie-detector tests. He also cannot be around children without their parents present.

“Child exploitation investigations remain a top priority for HSI because children are one of the most vulnerable members of our society,” said Jere T. Miles, special agent in charge of HSI New Orleans. “These lengthy sentences are a gratifying outcome for the special agents who are unwavering in their dedication to finding sexual predators and bringing them to justice.”

HSI takes a victim-centered approach to its child exploitation investigations by working to identify, rescue and stabilize victims. 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 25,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child exploitation material, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2019, more than 3,500 child predators 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.

HSI is a founding member 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.