BOISE, Idaho — A Hazelton man pleaded guilty Monday to producing child pornography, following a multi-state investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Michael Brian Clair, 33, admitted that between July 2012 and January 2013, he coerced two prepubescent minors to engage in sexually explicit conduct, for the purpose of producing visual depictions of that conduct, and transported those images from Arizona to Idaho in late December. Clair also admitted distributing child pornography to others via the Internet, including to a sex offender in Queensland, Australia.
"It wasn't enough for Clair to abuse two children, he shared his exploitation with predators around the world," said Brad Bench, special agent in charge of HSI Seattle, who oversees Idaho investigations. "HSI places a high priority on combating this despicable crime, not only to identify and rescue child victims, but to stop their re-victimization by individuals who view and distribute Internet child pornography."
Investigators began looking into Clair's Internet conduct in October 2012, after the then Parker, Ariz., resident, responded to an Internet advertisement posted by a New Orleans-based undercover HSI special agent. According to court records, Clair made several statements about having inappropriate sexual contact with a 4-year-old girl and discussed trading sexually explicit images with the undercover special agent. He was arrested in February near his Hazelton home.
"Those who victimize children by producing and distributing images of children being sexually abused will be identified, investigated and prosecuted," said U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson. "Today's guilty plea sends the strong message that local, state and federal agencies will work together in an efficient and coordinated manner to bring these predators to justice."
Clair faces 15 to 30 years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000, and a minimum term of five years and up to lifetime supervised release.
HSI special agents from Idaho, Louisiana, Washington, and Arizona investigated the case, with assistance from the Boise Police Department, Idaho State Police, Jerome County Sheriff's Office and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Idaho.
Sentencing is set for Oct. 7 before U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge at the federal courthouse in Boise.
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 1-866-347-2423 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, 1-800-843-5678.
HSI is a founding member and current chair 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.