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Child Exploitation

Former south Texas airline business owner convicted on multiple child pornography-related charges

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — A south Texas business owner was convicted Monday on multiple child pornography-related charges. The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with the assistance of police departments in Menomonee Falls, Wis., and Kenner, La.

Robert L. Hedrick, 60, of Brownsville, Texas, and the former president of the Brownsville-based Pan-American Airways, was found guilty on the following charges: attempting to sexually exploit children, transferring obscene materials to a minor, and distributing and possessing child pornography.

According to court documents, the five-count indictment, returned by the grand jury on Aug. 16, 2011, charged Hedrick with attempting to produce images of child pornography, and transferring obscene materials to a minor between Sept. 14 and Nov. 22, 2010. Hedrick was also accused of two counts of distributing child pornography between March 8 and Sept. 16, 2010, and again between Sept. 14 and Nov. 22, 2010, as well as possessing child pornography on July 18, 2011, the date of his arrest. The jury deliberated for less than three hours and returned guilty verdicts on all counts.

During the six-day trial before U. S. District Court Judge Andrew S. Hanen, evidence presented by HSI showed that between March 8 and Nov. 22, 2010, Hedrick contacted undercover investigators in Louisiana and Wisconsin through Yahoo instant messenger and email more than 20 times. During those online communications, Hedrick shared 136 images of adult and child pornography with detectives who were posing as 13- and 14-year-old girls. Hedrick also asked each of the undercover detectives to provide him with images of themselves in sexually explicit poses and engaged in sex acts. HSI introduced a webcam video of Hedrick masturbating for the undercover detective who had repeatedly identified herself as a 14-year-old girl from Louisiana.

Additionally, prosecutors played an audio recording of a phone call between Hedrick and the same undercover detective during which Hedrick attempted to initiate phone sex. At the time of his July 18, 2011 arrest, Hedrick possessed a laptop and two external hard drives that contained more than 2,400 images and 18 videos of child pornography, 117 of which matched those sent to the undercover detectives during the chat sessions. The images and videos found in Hedrick's possession depicted children as young as infants being sexually assaulted and subjected to acts of anal and oral sex, bondage and bestiality. A number of the images had been identified by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as known victims of sexual assault.

Hedrick was linked to the online alias "David Anderson" or "sftg007" through IP addresses assigned to his Yahoo account by Sprint. Records revealed that each time Hedrick contacted the undercover detectives he was logged into his Yahoo account and Sprint Internet service. Hedrick's Sprint phone records verified he received a phone call from the undercover detective in Louisiana at the same time the audio recording was made. Moreover, the same phone number was found on a preprinted Pan-American Airways luggage tag attached to the laptop bag recovered from his residence and in two advertisements placed online for a lost dog.

The defense attempted to convince the jury that Hedrick was set up by any one of a number of family members or business associates. During about four hours of testimony, Hedrick varied between a family history that included his mother's humanitarian work in Africa and his father being a member of the CIA, and his projections that his company was worth hundreds of millions of dollars despite the fact that it did not have any customers or active contracts. Hedrick contended that any number of people could have had access to his computers to conduct the chat sessions and could have made it appear that he placed the phone call by piecing together parts of recorded conversations. On cross-examination, Hedrick admitted the voice on the phone call was his and that it was him masturbating on the webcam video. He also admitted that the laptop and external hard drives were his, were in his possession on the date of his arrest and that the hard drives contained images of child pornography. Hedrick also admitted that the images uploaded during the chat sessions were obscene or were images depicting child pornography.

Hedrick, who has been in custody since his arrest, will remain in custody pending his sentencing hearing.

Hedrick faces no less than 15 years and up to 30 years in federal prison without parole for attempting to produce child pornography. Transferring obscene material to a minor carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison; distributing child pornography carries a mandatory minimum of five years to a maximum of 20 years in federal prison. A conviction for possessing child pornography carries a punishment of up to 10 years in prison. Each count also carries a fine of $250,000 and a term of supervised release of no less than five years up to life during which the court can impose any number of conditions designed to protect children. Additionally, registration as a sex offender is mandatory.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys V. LaTawn Warsaw and Carrie Wirsing, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting the case.

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-DHS-2ICE 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 and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or http://www.cybertipline.com.