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Child Exploitation

Former south Texas airline business owner sentenced to 30 years following conviction on multiple child pornography charges

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — A south Texas airline business owner was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in federal prison following his conviction on multiple child pornography charges, announced U.S .Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

This 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, 61, of Brownsville, Texas, appeared before U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen who handed down the 360-month prison sentence. Following is the breakdown of his prison sentences, which are all running concurrently:

  • 360 months for attempting to produce child pornography,
  • 120 months for transferring obscene materials,
  • 240 months on each count of distributing childpornography, and
  • 120 months for possessing child pornography.

Hedrick was further ordered to pay restitution in the total amount of $5,406,463 to four known victims. He will serve a lifetime of supervised release after he completes his prison term, during which time he must comply with a number of court-ordered conditions. Hedrick was also ordered to register as a sex offender.

According to court documents, a federal jury convicted the president of the Brownsville-based Pan-American Airways May 21, following six days of trial and less than three hours of deliberation. The jury rejected Hedrick's testimony that he was framed as part of a long-term conspiracy hatched by former business partners and various drug cartels so that they could smuggle drugs, guns and nuclear materials through the Brownsville airport.

At the Dec. 19 sentencing hearing, the government presented victim-impact statements from two known victims and their families, subsequently, taking into consideration Hedrick's age, but without commenting on the guilty verdict or providing additional comment.

During trial, the jury heard that between March 8, 2010, and Nov. 22, 2010, Hedrick contacted undercover investigators in Louisiana and Wisconsin more than 20 times through Yahoo instant messenger and email. 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. The government 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 arrest July 18, 2011, Hedrick possessed a laptop and two external hard drives that contained more than 2,400 images and 18 videos of child pornography. These images and videos depicted children as young as infants being sexually assaulted and subjected to acts of anal and oral sex, bondage and bestiality. Many of the images had been identified by the National Center for Missing & 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, Hedrick's name and phone number were found on a preprinted Pan American Airways luggage tag attached to the laptop bag recovered from his residence, inside the bag was a laptop computer containing child pornography.

Hedrick will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Wirsing, Southern District of Texas and V. LaTawn, Western District of Texas, prosecuted this 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 & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

HSI is a founding member and the U.S. representative 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.