Dalton Moorhead, 28, of Warren County, is one of three men facing child porn charges in Warren County built from evidence gathered by technology developed for Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces.

Task force tech leads to child porn charges in 3 Warren County cases

Three Warren County men are facing felony child-porn charges based on evidence discovered on two days in January using technology developed for Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task forces.

Thomas Johnson, 79, of Franklin Twp.; Verlan Harper, 68, of South Lebanon; and Dalton Moorhead, 28, of Deerfield Twp., were all charged with multiple felonies related to possession of child pornography on their digital devices.

The porn was found through searches of their homes after a Warren County Sheriff’s Office detective in January used the ICAC COPS program to identify their residences as places where porn was being downloaded from the sites on “Dark Web,” according to court records.

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The cases demonstrate the running technological arms race waged between law enforcement and criminal enterprises, as well as the complexity and unique challenges of fighting crime in the 21st century.

“Technology in the last 15, 20 years, has been making the criminal justice system evolve in all kinds of ways,” said James Bogen, the lawyer representing Harper.

The ICAC COPS program is among the tools developed for the more than 60 ICAC “coordinated task forces representing over 4,500 federal, state, and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Task force investigations also resulted in charges against a Lebanon man in Texas in March and a former Oakwood public official in Wisconsin last December.

Jimmy Ray Smith, 34, was arrested in Lebanon after admitting to sending child-porn to an undercover investigation in Texas. Smith was charged with three counts of sexual battery, three counts of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented materials and two counts of endangering children, according to the Montgomery County Constable’s Office in Texas.

Former Oakwood Public Safety Director Alex Bebris, 50, is charged with distribution of and possession of child pornography in Brown County, Wisc. Bebris, who ran unsuccessfully for county sheriff after moving to Wisconsin, allegedly had 89 files of child porn on his computer hard drive.

“We are always playing catch up to criminals’ use of technology, whether it’s the trafficking of child pornography, or any other criminal acts. Law enforcement adapts, then the criminals adapt. It’s been that way forever,” Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said.

According to the Department of Justice, the federal child-porn fighting program, formed in 1998, was developed “in response to the increasing number of children and teenagers using the Internet, the proliferation of child sexual abuse images available electronically, and heightened online activity by predators seeking unsupervised contact with potential underage victims.”

Last year, $28.6 million was budgeted for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces, and 71,200 investigations and 84,700 forensic exams conducted, resulting in more than 9,100 arrests, according to the Department of Justice.

According to court records, Johnson was indicted on June 24 on 67 charges of pandering sexually oriented matter or use of a minor in nude material or performance, and booked into the county jail.

He was released on his own recognizance and remained free last week. No court dates have been scheduled.

The case was sparked more than six months earlier, on Jan. 14, when Detective Brandi Carter used the ICAC “tool” and determined a web address, later linked to Johnson, had been “used to frequent known child pornography sites, and programs, ” from Sept. 2017, to March 21, 2019, according to a search warrant filed in Warren County Common Pleas Court.

Further work led investigators to Johnson’s apartment. While Johnson was gone, his cellphone, computer equipment, including multiple storage devices, an address book and other papers were seized on April 3, according to a receipt filed with the search warrant.

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“The cases can be time-consuming in some instances, because it takes time to review all the electronic files on a suspect’s hard drive to determine how many videos/photos exist, how many potential children are involved, and whether the suspect actually produced the child pornography or ‘only’ trafficked it,” Fornshell said in a text-message response to questions.

Harper and Moorhead were indicted on May 20.

Moorhead was charged with 47 counts of pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor, Harper 27 pandering counts and two counts of illegal use of a minor in a nudity-oriented display.

After the indictments were issued, Fornshell said evidence gathered in Moorhead’s case included video of a 12- to 18-month-old girl beaten, raped and tortured, “probably the most horrifying child pornography that we’ve ever seen.”

His case began on Jan. 13, when Carter, a Warren County Sheriff’s deputy specializing in such investigations, used the ICAC tool to determine a web address traced to Moorhead’s home had been used from October 2018 to Jan. 12 to download child porn, according to search warrant filings.

Moorhead was booked into the jail, posted $50,000 bail and is represented by a court-appointed lawyer. He is scheduled to return to court later this week for a pretrial hearing.

Harper’s case began the same day in January, when Carter used the same high-tech tool to trace child porn downloaded between Dec. 9, 2018, and March 8, to Harper’s home.

On March 11, cellphone, computer equipment, including multiple storage devices, cameras, drug paraphernalia and suspected drugs were seized, according to a receipt filed with the search warrant.

Harper remains in jail, awaiting sentencing.

On July 10, he pleaded guilty to 15 counts of pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor.

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Harper faces six to 18 months in prison on each count and a $5,000 fine, according to Bogen.

No prison is mandatory or necessary under state law, according to the plea documents.

Harper is also required to be classified as a Tier 2 sexual offender, requiring him to report to local authorities, once he returns to society.

Bogen wants the court to hire experts to help to “perform a risk assessment” and testify at Harper’s sentencing, scheduled for Sept. 5.

“He is facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison,” Bogen said in the motion.

Last week, Bogen said he hoped to convince Judge Timothy Tepe that Harper is good candidate for leniency.

Harper has no prior felonies, cooperated with investigation and is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, according to his lawyer.

More importantly, “Thankfully, he never touched a kid,” Bogen said. “Big difference.”

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