TAMPA — They always knew he was a lousy father; they just had no idea how horrible he was.
When the FBI began investigating him for trading child pornography, agents came across one CD in his trove of explicit videos and pictures that made his family grateful he had dropped out of their lives.
Turns out he secretly filmed his 8-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old friend naked and in their underwear 10 years ago.
One video shows the two girls in the shower. The older girl looks out of the shower and says, “Why are you recording me?”
“I’m not recording you,” the defendant says. “I’m trying to figure out how this camera works.”
He keeps assuring the girl he’s not recording and then tells her to get out of the shower. He tells her where to stand and tells her to take off her towel and dry her hair. Then he tells her to sit on the sink so he can have a better view of her. He zooms in to a shot of her crotch.
On Thursday, the 67-year-old Sarasota man was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison, followed by life on probation. The Tampa Tribune is withholding the defendant’s name to protect the identity of his daughter.
The man described by his lawyer as a Vietnam veteran with numerous health problems was only the latest evidence of a fact known by child advocates but not widely recognized by the public: Fathers and father figures comprise one of the biggest categories of producers of child pornography.
In fact, nearly twice as many children in a nationwide child-porn database compiled in 2009 by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were photographed by their parents as were victims of online enticement. The number victimized by parents was nearly seven times that of children exploited by strangers.
As recently as Wednesday, a 47-year-old Tampa man was sentenced to 10 years in state prison for possessing 10 video and image files and two video voyeur files depicting his stepdaughter, who was younger than 12 years old. His sentence, handed down in Hillsborough Circuit Court, includes a requirement that he serve 10 years of sex offender probation after he is released.
Hillsborough sheriff’s deputies who searched his house found a concealed camera in the victim’s bedroom.
In the case of the Sarasota man sentenced in federal court on Thursday, FBI agents seized nearly 6,000 images of child pornography from his home. The explicit images included babies and toddlers, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacie Harris.
On the one CD, agents found two files, including the shower video and images of the two girls in various stages of undress, posed and set to music.
Defense lawyer Michael Perry said the defendant didn’t sexually touch any children and didn’t share the images he made of his daughter and her friend with anyone else.
The man had nothing to say before he was sentenced. His victims and their mothers, though, had plenty to tell the judge.
“He may be the father on my birth certificate, but he is far from a dad,” his daughter said in a letter read by Harris. He hasn’t been part of his children’s lives for years, she continued. He didn’t pay child support and said it was up to his children to make the effort to reach out to him.
“I always thought if I tried my best, he would realize what great children he had and step up to the plate and be there for us, but he never did. Knowing what we do now, I’m not sure whether I still hate him for not being in our lives or thank him.”
When she found out what her father had done, she said, she was “completely sick to my stomach” and still feels that way when she thinks about it. “To know I was involved was bad enough, but to find out one of my old friends was, too, is even worse. I had no idea at all what he was doing or that I was part of it. There are no words that can describe the shame, embarrassment and humiliation he has put all of us through.”
The girl’s mother, who also was not in court, said in a letter read by Harris that she has been angry at the defendant since they divorced 10 years ago. She was mad because their children wondered if they were to blame for their father’s absence.
“But now it all makes sense,” she wrote. “He chose to care about one person - himself - he sacrificed the love and respect of his children for all things material ... and a sick, perverted obsession we knew nothing about until a phone call in January from the FBI that sent our world into a tailspin.”
As devastating as that news was, she added, “I am now thankful that he was a deadbeat dad in every sense of the word. I’m glad he chose to not be in their lives.”
The other victim and her mother were in court. The mother said she found a torn picture in her garage a decade ago. Piecing it together, she found her daughter and the defendant’s daughter in their underwear.
She said she called police, but nothing ever happened. “But 10 years later, it has all caught up to you,” she told the defendant. “You victimized me as well. ... You had picture of my daughter on your wall and described her as yours. ... You’re sick. You sucked as a neighbor. You sucked as a father.”