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June 19, 2015Santa Ana, CA, United StatesChild Exploitation

Former Orange County church youth counselor indicted on child pornography charges

SANTA ANA, Calif.  – A former youth counselor for an Orange County church who is accused of using peer-to-peer file sharing technology to possess and distribute child pornography is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court Friday afternoon.

Todd Christian Hartman, 32, of Newport Beach, formerly served as a youth counselor for the Vineyard Church in Anaheim. Hartman is accused in a federal indictment handed down Wednesday of one count of possession of child pornography and two counts involving the distribution of child pornography. The possession of child pornography count is punishable by a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Each distribution count carries a mandatory minimum penalty of five years in prison and a maximum sentence of up to 20 years.

The alleged incidents occurred in 2014 and earlier this year. Hartman was arrested Friday morning by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and detectives from the Newport Beach Police Department. The charges are the result of an investigation by the multiagency Orange County Child Exploitation Task Force. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

“These allegations are particularly disturbing in light of the defendant’s access to children,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of HSI Los Angeles. “HSI will continue to work closely with our local and federal law enforcement partners to investigate those who sexually exploit our young people and ensure that these predators feel the full weight of the law.”

According to court documents, on multiple occasions the defendant used the Internet to download and distribute sexually explicit images of minors. When OCCETF investigators executed a state search warrant at Hartman’s Newport Beach home in February, they recovered more than 400 videos and in excess of 300 still images containing child pornography. Some of those videos featured children as young as 8 or 9.

OCCETF investigators notified church officials about the suspicions surrounding the defendant following the execution of the state search warrant in February. The church is cooperating fully with the ongoing probe. Investigators are still seeking to determine whether the defendant engaged in any criminal misconduct with underage parishioners.

The OCCETF was formed in 2011 to enable agencies to share information and resources to identify and arrest child predators operating in the county. Currently, there are five agencies on the Task Force, including HSI, the FBI, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the Newport Beach Police Department, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Since its inception, the OCCETF has conducted more than 200 investigations resulting in more than 120 arrests.