An undercover investigation of individuals trading or offering images of exploited children led authorities to a rural Goodhue County residence.
After a law enforcement search of a Bellechester man’s home, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children identified infant to pubescent victims shown in lewd and sexual acts. These images were found on computers and a hard drive inside the home, authorities say.
Anthony Robert Gaston, 53, was summoned to court Thursday and faces three felony counts of dissemination of child pornography and 17 felony counts of possession of child pornography, according to a complaint filed in Goodhue County District Court Dec. 10.
If convicted, Gaston faces a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine for each count of dissemination of child pornography. He also faces a maximum of five years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine for each count of possession of child pornography.
Here is what the court complaint alleges took place:
On Dec. 28, 2010, Detective Sgt. McLaughlin of the Keene, N.H., Police Department, alerted Capt. Pat Thompson of the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office of a suspect, believed to be Gaston, who was sending child pornography images from a computer located in Bellechester.
Goodhue County Investigator Glen Barringer was assigned to the local investigation.
Barringer reviewed the undercover investigation materials in which he learned McLaughlin allegedly engaged in a real-time chat with Gaston Dec. 19, 2010. McLaughlin received four emails with attached image files containing child pornography. McLaughlin continued to receive emails from Gaston containing multiple images.
A search of the IP address showed the emails were sent using an Internet service provider identified as Pine Island Telephone Co.
The Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office soon received a CD-ROM containing copies of images from the Keene Police Department.
A subpoena was issued to the Pine Island Telephone Co. for subscriber information. Those records indicated the account holder to be Gaston.
The Goodhue County deputies executed a search warrant Jan. 13, 2011. Gaston was found inside his residence and law enforcement officers seized six laptop computers, 10 desktop computers and one external hard drive.
Approximately 69 video images and approximately 10 images of interest were revealed on the computers and hard drive after a search by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension-Internet Crimes Against Children.
The case continued to grow. On April 25, 2011, the Minnesota BCA received a USB flash drive which contained approximately 2,300 images and 100 videos of child pornography.
All of the images recovered from Gaston’s computers as well as his email address were submitted to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Staff there compared them to images of missing children using a child recognition and identification system.
The NCMEC identified missing children from Germany, the U.S., Switzerland, Australia, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom in the videos and photographs.
The local court complaint does not say where Gaston got the images or where any of the children are now.
Capt. Thompson said review of images and videos in such cases takes months to process. Each must be certified as pornography before the county attorney’s office reviews the information to determine whether there is enough evidence to form a case.
Gaston was booked into jail and made his first appearance in court Dec. 19 — three years after the alleged email exchange. He was released on his own recognizance under the conditions that he keep the court and attorney informed of his current address, use no alcohol or controlled substances, possess no alcohol or drugs, submit to random testing, obey the law, make all future court appearances, have no contact with anyone under age 18, have no access to or use Internet without approval, possess or use no pornographic or sexually explicit material and use or possess no firearms or dangerous weapons.
Gaston’s next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 7, 2014.