FRESNO, Calif. — Two area men, including a girls' high school softball coach, have been indicted on federal charges for receiving and sharing child pornography following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Fresno County Sheriff's Office.
John Whitley Richards, 40, of Clovis, Calif., a former substitute teacher and girls' softball coach at Fresno High School, surrendered to authorities Monday. Richards was indicted July 21 on separate counts of receiving and sharing images of child pornography. According to the indictment, Richards allegedly used the Internet to send and receive images of child pornography from August 2008 through June 2011. The Fresno Unified School District issued a statement Tuesday noting that Richards was dismissed as a substitute teacher and resigned his coaching post as soon as district officials learned of the charges in late June.
The second Fresno-area man indicted on child pornography charges is Joshua B. Werner, 26, of Fresno, Calif. Werner was charged July 28 with one count of receiving and sharing images of child pornography. The indictment alleges that, between March and May, Werner used the Internet to send and receive images of child pornography.
"ICE Homeland Security Investigations is working closely with local law enforcement to target individuals who are using the Internet to engage in child pornography crimes," said Paul Leonardi, resident agent in charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Fresno. "The reality is, every time sexually explicit images of minors are downloaded, the children in them are victimized again."
If convicted of the charges, the defendants face a mandatory prison term of five to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and a lifetime term of supervised release.
These cases are the result of an extensive investigation by the San Joaquin Valley's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which includes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Fresno County Sheriff's Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian W. Enos is prosecuting both cases.
The cases were brought as part of ICE's Operation Predator, a nationwide initiative to identify, investigate and arrest those who sexually exploit children, and the Department of Justice's Project Safe Childhood, which marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children using the Internet.
As part of Operation Predator, ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423. 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.
Through Project Safe Childhood (PSC), the Department of Justice is seeking to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. For additional information on the PSC initiative, go to www.projectsafechildhood.gov or call the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California and ask to speak with the PSC coordinator.