Skip to main content
September 7, 2023Charleston, WV, United StatesChild Exploitation

HSI Charleston investigation lands elementary school custodian in prison for distributing child sexual abuse material

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Charleston resulted in a West Virginia elementary school custodian being sentenced to six years in prison followed by 15 years of supervised release for distribution and attempted distribution of child sexual abuse material. Robert Anthony Thomas, 47, of Parkersburg, received the sentence Aug. 30 at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Charleston. Thomas must also register as a sex offender.

“Through his detestable actions, Robert Anthony Thomas has proven to be a detriment to his community,” said HSI Washington, D.C. Special Agent in Charge Derek W. Gordon. “His heinous crimes victimized innocent and vulnerable members of our society — our children. HSI Washington, D.C. will not allow the communities we have sworn to protect to become safe havens for deviants.”

According to the investigation, from approximately June 2020 through August 2022, Thomas made over 105,000 digital media files of child sexual abuse material available to others on a peer-to-peer file sharing program.

Thomas admitted that he knew the digital media files contained child sexual abuse material and that other people would download them. He also admitted that the files included a video of a prepubescent girl engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

On Aug. 23, 2022, HSI special agents executed a search warrant at Thomas’ residence and seized electronic devices, including a computer and an external hard drive.

Thomas told the agents that he worked as a custodian at a local elementary school. He has since been terminated from that position.

Thomas also told officers that he routinely ran a scrubbing program on his electronic devices to delete their data and provided the search terms he used to find sexually explicit images of minor girls.

A forensic analysis of the electronic devices revealed over 37,000 digital media files of child sexual abuse material. Thomas admitted that he knew many of the images and videos depicted prepubescent minors, including infants and toddlers, and that several of the images and videos depict known child victims.

HSI Charleston conducted the investigation with significant assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of West Virginia.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.