PHILADELPHIA – A Pennsylvania man was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in federal prison for the production and possession of child pornography. The sentence is the result of an extensive investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Montgomery County (Pa.) District Attorney's Office.
Gary Romano, 58, of Norristown, Pa., posed as a babysitter for the sole purpose of gaining access to a 2-year-old girl in order to sexually exploit her. Romano pleaded guilty to the charges in August.
In October 2009, Romano posted an advertisement on the website sittercity.com, which is a national, online nanny and babysitting service. He posted the following ad: "I love kids, reading to them, playing games, doing crafts or making snacks, and other things kids like. Mine are grown now, so I am looking to being kind of a step-grandfather by babysitting to be with kids again."
Romano also obtained and offered to prospective clients a security background check. He was contacted by – and corresponded with – a parent and participated in an interview with that parent. The parent hired Romano to babysit his daughter for only a couple of hours on one occasion. In that short time, Romano exploited the little girl. He photographed the exploitation with his cell phone and then sent the images to another pedophile in Oregon via the Internet.
"Anyone who produces, possesses or shares child pornography victimizes and traumatizes the most innocent and vulnerable members of our society," said John P. Kelleghan, special agent in charge of HSI Philadelphia. "This case is particularly disturbing because Romano posed as a babysitter for the sole purpose of gaining access to innocent children. But it also illustrates the severe penalties that await those who engage in this type of depraved activity. This case would not have come to a successful conclusion without the tremendous assistance and partnership of the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office."
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-DHS-2-ICE 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-THE-LOST.
HSI is a founding member and the U.S. representative 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.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise S. Wolf, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, prosecuted this case on behalf of the U.S. government.