BENTON, Ill. - A local man pleaded guilty in federal court on Friday to traveling to Canada to sexually exploit a minor and take sexually explicit photographs of the girl. This guilty plea resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Larry A. Bechel, 63, of Wood River, Ill., pleaded guilty July 2 in the Southern District of Illinois to sexually exploiting a minor, and transporting and possessing child pornography.
According to court documents, Bechel traveled to Canada between Feb. 9 and March 7, 2004 to have sex with a minor who lived in Canada. Bechel enticed the minor to have sex with the intent to take photographs of this sexually explicit conduct. Twenty-two of the photographs depicted the minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct. Bechel then transported the images from Canada to Illinois on a memory card in his digital camera.
When Bechel returned to his residence, he downloaded the 22 photographs of child pornography from his camera memory card to his computer. He later used his computer to make a CD of the images. Bechel possessed the CD containing the pornographic images from about March 8, 2004 until the CD was recovered during a search of his house on July 28, 2006.
In a voluntary statement to ICE agents, Bechel admitted meeting the minor on the internet, who he knew was 15 at the time. He stated that he was interested in an intimate relationship with the minor; therefore, he traveled to Canada on two separate occasions intending to have sex with her. Bechel stated that on the second trip he rented a hotel room for him and the minor in Vancouver, Canada. While in the hotel room, he had sex with the minor and took nude photographs of her on her 16th birthday. Bechel further admitted destroying the hard drive of the computer he used to create the CD because he did not want to get in trouble for having the pornographic images.
Bechel may be sentenced to up to 30 years in federal prison for sexually exploiting a minor, up to 20 years in prison for transporting child pornography, and up to 10 years in prison for possessing child pornography. Each count also carries up to a $250,000 fine and up to a lifetime of supervised release. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 8, 2010.
ICE was assisted in the investigation by the following law enforcement agencies: Wood River Police Department, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Vancouver Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Angela Scott and Stephen Clark, Southern District of Illinois, are prosecuting this case.
This investigation was 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 12,800 individuals.
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.