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Child Exploitation

Missouri man sentenced to almost 15 years for possessing child pornography

ICE agents discovered on his computers more than 22,000 child pornography images, 650 videos

ST. LOUIS, Mo. - An eastern Missouri resident was sentenced here Thursday to almost 15 years in federal prison for transporting and possessing thousands of sexually explicit child pornography images and videos. U.S. Attorney Catherine L. Hanaway announced the sentence; the case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Billy W. Hays, 49, from New London, Mo., was sentenced to 178 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Autrey, Eastern District of Missouri. There is no parole in the federal prison system.

"This case is particularly egregious involving more than 20,000 images of child pornography," said Hanaway. "Mr. Hayes will now be locked up for a long time so he can no longer be a danger to children."

"Each child depicted in the thousands of child pornography images and movies discovered on Mr. Hays' computers is an innocent victim of those who produce, possess, transport and share child pornography," said James Ward, resident agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in St. Louis. "ICE will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to identify child predators and bring them to justice." Ward oversees eastern Missouri and southern Illinois.

According to court documents, on Sept. 18, 2007, law enforcement officers executed a federal search warrant at Hayes' residence on Oglesby Place, New London, Mo. During the execution of the warrant, officers seized 15 firearms, including a loaded AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifle stored next to the front door. Officers also found at the residence computer-printed photographs of juveniles along with several bags of candy and stuffed toys.

ICE agents conducted a forensic analysis of the two computers seized which revealed multiple chat files and the exchange of images of minors, including infants, engaged in sexually explicit activity. The investigation revealed that between Dec. 15, 2006 and Jan. 27, 2007, throughout the course of five Google chat room exchanges, Hays received about 1,379 images and distributed about 1,601 images.

Additionally, subsequent analysis of Hays' computer revealed 650 child pornography movie files, and 22,355 images of suspected child pornography. In addition to child pornographic image files and child pornographic video files, the above included images and videos of bestiality and bondage involving minors. Hayes admitted with his plea that he regularly participated in exchanging child pornography images via the Internet since 2003.

The images from this case were forwarded to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Child Victim Identification Program for comparison to known images; 155 images and 115 movie files were identified as depicting known child victims.

Hays pleaded guilty in September to one felony count of transporting child pornography and one felony count of receiving child pornography.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood. In February 2006, the Department of Justice launched Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative designed to protect children from online exploitation and abuse. Led by the U.S. Attorneys' Offices, 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 identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, visit: www.projectsafechildhood.gov/.

This investigation was also part of Operation Predator, a nationwide 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 Operation Predator was launched in July 2003, ICE agents have arrested more than 11,500 individuals, including more than 100 in Missouri.

ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. This hotline is staffed around the clock by investigators.

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.

Hanaway commended the work on the case by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, the Regional Computer Crimes Education and Enforcement Group, the Ralls County Sheriff's Department, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tiffany Becker, who prosecuted the case.