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Child Exploitation

ICE arrests New Mexico youth minister indicted on child pornography charges

Former teacher, coach has prior convictions in Pennsylvania for child sex crimes

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - A church youth minister was arraigned on child pornography charges on Thursday following his arrest by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents.

Matthew Nichols, 58, was arrested at his Los Alamos, N.M., residence on June 23, a day after a federal grand jury indicted him on child pornography charges, including distributing and attempting to distribute, receiving, and possessing child pornography.

According to the indictment, Nichols has prior convictions in Pennsylvania for corrupting minors and criminal solicitation (to commit involuntary, deviate sexual intercourse).

At the time of the crimes alleged in the indictment, Nichols was the youth minister of Bethlehem Evangelical Luther Church in Los Alamos, about 100 miles north of Albuquerque. He was previously employed as a science teacher and coach at McCurdy Middle School in Española, N.M. He was also a teacher at Steele Valley High School in Munhall, Pa.

ICE began investigating Nichols in October 2009 after receiving information from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about an email address that had been used to transmit child pornography which was traced to Nichols' home and Bethlehem Evangelical Luther Church. The New Mexico Attorney General's Office, the New Mexico State Police and FBI assisted ICE in the case.

According to court records, ICE special agents seized computers from Nichols' home and Bethlehem Evangelical Luther Church containing child pornography. A forensic examination of the seized computers revealed thousands of sexually explicit images and videos of child pornography. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children identified more than 2,000 of these images and more than 200 videos of known victims.

"Distributing and possessing images of child sexual exploitation further victimizes the most vulnerable members of society," said Manuel Oyola-Torres, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Homeland Security Investigations in El Paso. "ICE is committed to relentlessly seek out these predators."

If convicted, Nichols faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and a lifetime of supervised release and a $250,000 fine for distributing and possessing child pornography. He also faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a lifetime of supervised release and a $250,000 fine for each of three counts of possessing a visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. He remains in federal custody pending a detention hearing set for June 25.

An indictment is only an accusation. All criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Anyone with any information relating to Nichols or the crimes charged in the indictment is asked to call New Mexico Attorney General's Office Special Agent Anthony Maez at (505) 222-9161.

This investigation was part of Operation Predator, an ICE 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. Since ICE launched Operation Predator in 2003, more than 12,800 child sex predators, sex tourists and child pornographers have been arrested.

ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators by calling at 1-866-DHS-2ICE.

For more information, visit www.ice.gov.