Victim was being groomed by 39-year-old male in Florida
VANCOUVER – Members of the Vancouver Police Department’s Digital Evidence Cybercrime Unit (DECU) assisted in the arrest of a 39-year-old Florida man who was attempted to meet a 14-year-old girl for sex.
On July 1, the Kalama Police Department began a child sexual exploitation investigation involving a 14-year-old victim who was being groomed for sex by the 39-year-old male in Florida. The male had been communicating with the girl for several months over a variety of social media platforms and was posing online as a 20 year old.
As the primary Department of Justice Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) affiliate in Southwest Washington, DECU was requested to provide assistance in the case.
DECU detectives and Kalama Police met with the victim and her family, then assumed her online persona and began an undercover operation to identify and expose the suspect. During online chats with the man, detectives learned he was currently somewhere in Vancouver and was making plans to meet the victim.
Because the suspect knew the location of the victim’s residence, the victim and her family were notified and a safety plan was set up with the Kalama Police Department. DECU detectives immediately wrote warrants and emergency orders to several electronic and online service providers in an attempt to locate the suspect.
After finding the suspect in the downtown area of Vancouver, detectives from the Vancouver Police Department Neighborhood Response Teams set up surveillance, while DECU detectives continued chatting with him. The suspect advised he was on his way to the victim’s house to bring her a cell phone and was observed leaving his hotel on a bicycle. According to Vancouver Police Department officials, the victim resides at the homes of family members in both Vancouver and Kalama. The suspect arrived shortly thereafter at the victim’s house in Vancouver where he was seen by detectives hiding a plastic bag in the victim’s backyard. He was arrested without incident by surveillance teams. The bag was later found to contain a cell phone hidden in a box of gum packets, some chocolate bars and a love letter to the victim.
Detectives executed a search warrant at the suspect’s hotel room and located what appears to be a kidnappers kit which included heavy duty flex cuffs, handcuffs, duct tape, rubber gloves, face wrap/blindfold, lubricant, a sex toy, several large knives, a hatchet, and a .45 caliber handgun and ammunition. Photo courtesy of Vancouver Police Department
A subsequent search warrant on the three phones the suspect had in his possession revealed the sexually exploitive chats with the victim and DECU undercover officers, thousands of depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit activity and a Google map used to locate the victim’s residence. The love letter found in the bag detailed the man’s obsession for the girl and how he had immediately gone to her house after arriving in Washington on a bus. He also explained that he purchased her the cell phone so they could communicate secretly. The letter went further to detail that he even watched the victim’s younger brother playing in the yard.
Detectives executed a search warrant at the suspect’s hotel room and located what appears to be a kidnappers kit which included heavy duty flex cuffs, handcuffs, duct tape, rubber gloves, face wrap/blindfold, lubricant, a sex toy, several large knives, a hatchet, and a .45 caliber handgun and ammunition. An additional cell phone, laptop computer and a thumb drive were also seized and are being forensically examined.
Samuel Aaron Leonard, of New Port Richey, Florida, was arrested and booked on the following charges:
• Communication with a minor for immoral purposes
• Possession of child pornography in the 1st degree
• Dealing of child pornography in the 1st degree
• Sexual exploitation of a minor
A follow up investigation will be conducted by DECU in the coming weeks, including computer forensics on numerous cell phones, the laptop and the thumb drive that all appear to have depictions from hundreds of other minors the suspect was communicating with across the United States. DECU is currently working with Florida ICAC teams in the Pasco, County Florida area to serve warrants on the suspect’s residence.
The Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agent assigned to DECU will be referring this case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office Western District for consideration of federal charges related to his travel across state lines to facilitate these crimes.
“This case could easily have had a tragic ending had alert parents and siblings of the victim not been paying close attention and alerted authorities,’’ stated a news release from the Vancouver Police Department. “The Vancouver and Kalama Police departments are very grateful for the cooperation and assistance given by this family and the numerous law enforcement agencies involved in this case.’’
The Vancouver Police Department and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force encourages anyone who believes a child is being exploited online to call 9-1-1 to report their concerns to law enforcement immediately.
Information provided by the Vancouver Police Department.