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July 22, 2022McAllen, TX, United StatesChild Exploitation

South Texas man sentenced to life in prison for child exploitation following HSI investigation

McALLEN, Texas – A South Texas man was sentenced to life in prison for production of child pornography and coercion and enticement of a minor, following an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Rio Grande Valley Child Exploitation Task Force.

Reid Etheridge, 42, was sentenced July 22 to life in prison. A second defendant, Alicia Cronkhite, 30, from Edinburg, was sentenced to 189 months in federal prison to be immediately followed by a lifetime of supervised release. At the hearing, the court heard additional facts discussing the abuse both minor victims sustained at Etheridge and Cronkhite’s hands. In handing down the sentence, the judge considered and heavily weighed the chances that Etheridge would re-offend in the future should he be released from federal prison. The judge also considered that Etheridge manipulated Cronkhite into participating in their criminal conduct.

“This lengthy sentence is a testament to the repugnant nature of child exploitation crimes, particularly the production of child pornography which only perpetuates the trauma endured by victims,” said Alejandro Amaro, acting special agent in charge of HSI San Antonio. “HSI agents make it a top priority to protect vulnerable children from victimization by working with their law enforcement partners to investigate predators involved with the production, distribution and possession of child sexual abuse material and ensure they are held accountable for their heinous actions.”

According to court documents, Etheridge had filmed himself committing the sexual abuse and assault of two minor children from on or about Jan. 1, 2020, to approximately Oct. 1, 2020. As part of her guilty plea, Cronkhite admitted she took photographs of one minor victim’s exposed genitals and transmitted those photographs to Etheridge at his request.

The investigation began when authorities identified an IP address in McAllen that had uploaded images and videos depicting minor children engaged in sex acts. On Oct. 2, 2020, law enforcement executed a search warrant and encountered Etheridge at the residence. He soon admitted he had filmed himself sexually assaulting one minor victim. Further investigation revealed communication between Etheridge and Cronkhite detailing the sexual exploitation of another minor victim. HSI searched her residence, at which time she admitted she produced multiple images of a minor victim and transmitted the images to Etheridge.

Etheridge and Cronkhite will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined soon.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Mitchell, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted the case.

HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free tip line at 1-866-347-2423, or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. From outside the United States and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199; hearing impaired users may call TTY 802-872-6196.

HSI takes a victim-centered approach to child exploitation investigations by working to identify, rescue, and stabilize victims. HSI works in partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) partners, and other federal, state, and local agencies to help solve cases and rescue sexually exploited children. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to NCMEC’s toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.

HSI is a founding member 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.

One of HSI’s top priorities is to protect the public from crimes of victimization, and HSI’s child exploitation investigations program is a central component of this mission set. Further, HSI is recognized as a global leader in this investigative discipline, and is committed to utilizing its vast authorities, international footprint and strong government and non-government partnerships to identify and rescue child victims, identify, and apprehend offenders, prevent transnational child sexual abuse, and help make the internet a safer place for children.

HSI is a directorate of ICE and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 6,800 special agents assigned to 225 cities throughout the United States, and 86 overseas locations in 55 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

Updated: 07/25/2022