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Child Exploitation

South Illinois man sentenced to 16 1/2 years for sexually exploiting a minor

BENTON, Ill. - A local man was sentenced to more than 16 years in federal prison Thursday for traveling to Canada to sexually exploit a minor and take sexually explicit photographs of the girl. This lengthy sentence resulted from an investigation conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Larry A. Bechel, 63, of Wood River, Ill., was sentenced Aug. 5 in the Southern District of Illinois to 200 months in prison after he pleaded guilty in July to sexual exploiting a minor, and transporting and possessing child pornography.  During the court hearing, Bechel was further ordered to serve a lifetime term of supervised release after he completes his prison sentence and pay a fine of $25,000.

Bechel pleaded guilty to traveling 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 copy the images onto a CD. 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.

"This lengthy sentence serves as a stern warning to Americans who travel across our nation's borders to sexually exploit innocent children," said James Ward, resident agent in charge of ICE HSI office in St. Louis. "Removing these brazen predators from our streets helps protect the most vulnerable and innocent members of society - our children."

ICE HSI 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, prosecuted 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.