Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Child porn shame of airline chief

A Texas court has convicted the founder of a cargo airline of child pornography charges.

Jurors sided with prosecutors who said Robert Hedrick had explicit online chats with undercover officers posing as teenage girls and collected numerous illegal images.

Hedrick, 61, who founded Pan American Airways, was found guilty of distribution and possession of child pornography, transfer of obscene materials to a minor, and attempted sexual exploitation of children. He spoke quietly with his lawyers after the verdict was read, but otherwise showed no reaction.

He could get up to 20 years in prison on just one count of distributing child pornography when sentenced on August 27.

Federal authorities arrested Hedrick last summer after undercover detectives in Wisconsin and Louisiana traced the sexually explicit chat room exchanges from an online account registered to Hedrick. Investigators said they later found 2,400 pornographic images saved on three hard drives in his home.

After leaving the court in Brownsville, defence lawyer Ed Stapleton said Hedrick had always maintained his innocence.

In their closing remarks earlier, prosecutors reviewed evidence tying Hedrick to the chats with undercover officers posing online as 13 and 14-year old girls.

Defence lawyers denied it was Hedrick at the keyboard, trying to use the internet's thin veil of anonymity to raise doubts among jurors, and claimed he had a long list of enemies with the motivation and money to set him up.

Assistant US attorney Violet LaTawn Warsaw told jurors that Hedrick's ultimate goal was to convince teenage girls to send him nude photographs of themselves. To that end, he searched for them in internet chat rooms, began conversations that quickly turned sexually explicit and sent them pornography.

Ms Warsaw told jurors of a video of Hedrick performing a sex act. Government officials said it was live-streaming video during a chat with an undercover detective in Louisiana. Hedrick admitted that it was him but said it was a video he made for his wife during marriage counselling.

There was also a recorded phone conversation between the same detective and a man who prosecutors said was Hedrick. Hedrick acknowledged that the voice sounded like his.

Defence lawyers claimed Hedrick had many enemies thanks to his business dealings and personal life who had the motivation and the means to set him up and Mr Stapleton said the government had failed to investigate other possible suspects.

But Ms Warsaw produced evidence from Hedrick's internet provider and technical specialists that matched the times of the chats with log-ins from Hedrick's account and its internet address.

His mobile phone recorded the number of the undercover detective in Louisiana who called him at his request.

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