Louisiana man sentenced to decade in prison for enticing Spirit Lake child

Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Photo by Seth Boyes

Spirit Lake Police Chief Jeff Hanson is using a federal conviction with local ties to emphasize the importance of monitoring children's activities on electronic devices.

An Aug. 12 sentencing brought a two-year investigation and a federal court process to a close for a 23-year-old Louisiana man who pleaded guilty to enticing a minor from Spirit Lake.

Christopher Ray White

Christopher Ray White of Lettsworth, Louisiana, was convicted of establishing an inappropriate relationship with the 12-year-old girl online.

United States District Court Chief Judge Leonard T. Strand sentenced White to 10 1/2 years in prison.

Federal prosecutors in Sioux City say one of the websites used by White and the minor was "Omegle," which goes by the tagline "Talk to strangers!" The site does not require registration and it randomly picks people to talk with each other one-on-one.

"If you prefer, Omegle will look for someone who's into some of the same things as you, instead of someone completely random," the website says.

White and the victim then stayed in touch through the iMessage app, according to prosecutors.

"The parents found some text messages, photos and videos on the victim's phone," Hanson said. "They reported it to us, and the police department obtained search warrants for the phone there are preservation letters that you can send out to Facebook and other social media sites to preserve the information."

Hanson said White also confessed to illicit exchanges with the 12-year-old during police interviews.

The exchanges included photos and videos of White performing sexually explicit acts. He encouraged the girl to reply with similar images and videos of herself.

"They didn't have physical contact. They didn't meet," Hanson said. "Up to this point, they were just communicating back-and-forth through their cellphones. They were trying to set up a time or make arrangements to meet eventually down the road but they had not gotten that far yet."

Spirit Lake investigators worked with the Iowa Department of Criminalistics Investigations to determine White's identity using the 12-year-old's phone.

"This is a good reminder for parents to keep track of who their kids are communicating with and having contact with through the Web," Hanson said. "We have had similar incidents: The people haven't met in person, but older males were going through the process of communicating with younger females. The parents or our officers were able to intervene prior to anyone making arrangements to have physical contact. Unfortunately, those websites are out there."

White must serve a 5-year term of supervised release after the prison term. There is no parole in the federal system.

Assistant United States Attorney Mikala Steenholdt said the case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Led by the United States Attorneys' Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims.

The U.S. Attorney's office in Sioux City recommends using the "resources" tab at usdoj.gov/psc for more information.

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