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Child Exploitation

Ohio man arrested in Operation Sunflower pleads guilty to child sexual exploitation

COLUMBUS, Ohio – An Ohio man, who was arrested in November as part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Operation Sunflower, pleaded guilty Thursday to child sexual exploitation charges.

Mickell Close, 31, of Quincy, Ohio, pleaded guilty in U.S. district court to one count of using a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of the conduct.

On Nov. 8, HSI special agents in Columbus arrested Close on charges of child pornography production, and rescued two children who Close secretly videotaped in a bathroom in order to create still photos and videos that he used to trade on the Internet for other images of child pornography. HSI was assisted by the Logan County Sheriff's Office. He has been in custody since his arrest.

"Today's conviction is the first step toward healing for the victims of the depraved acts perpetrated by the defendant in this case," said William Hayes, acting special agent in charge of HSI Detroit, which covers Michigan and Ohio. "While we cannot restore the innocence stolen from the young victims in cases like these, we will continue to make the aggressive pursuit of their predators among our highest priorities."

Hayes, with Carter M. Stewart, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, and Sherriff Zach Scott of the Franklin County Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) announced the plea entered today before U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr.

In the plea agreement, the parties have agreed that a term of incarceration between 252 months and 318 months followed by 20 years under court supervision is the appropriate sentencing range. The court will conduct a pre-sentence investigation before deciding whether or not to accept the terms of the plea agreement.

Close also agreed to forfeit all computer equipment and visual depictions of the child pornography that were seized from him at the time of the execution of the search warrant in this case. The plea agreement also allows the U.S. Probation Office to install monitoring software on any computer he owns, uses or has access to during his period of supervised release. He will also be required to register as a sex offender anywhere he lives, works or goes to school.

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.