Man sentenced for child porn

60-year-old faces 14-year term for tracking down girls on Internet

January 06, 2007|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

An outraged federal judge in Baltimore sentenced an Anne Arundel County man to 14 years in prison yesterday on charges that he hunted down young girls over the Internet and manipulated at least eight of them into sending him pornographic pictures of themselves.

"You're not just every parent's nightmare," U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis said, his words measured but his tone furious at the end of a three-hour court hearing. "You are a horror to every sane adult in this community."

Wearing a short-sleeve shirt and khaki shorts, Danny Fleck, a former postal worker and crack cocaine addict, apologized for spending years trolling online for underage girls across the country.

"I thought I was very respectful to them," Fleck said, his voice rarely rising above whisper. In the end, he begged not to die in prison.

One of his victims, who first met Fleck online when she was 14, told investigators that Fleck persuaded her to send him money for food, as well as McDonald's gift certificates and self-made explicit videos. Yesterday, she told the judge that the experience was "embarrassing and humiliating."

Online, the 60-year-old posed as everything he wasn't -- a tall, good-looking 19-year-old blond who attracted the kind of girls who buy their boyfriends teddy bears and rock band posters. Hundreds of messages later, he persuaded the youngsters to mail him nude pictures of themselves as well as articles of their underclothing.

According to one account, a bedroom in his Severn home had walls lined with pictures of girls as young as eight.

One 14-year-old victim accused him of drugging and raping her after he showed up unexpectedly outside her middle school. But Davis ruled that prosecutors had not presented enough convincing evidence to allow him to consider the accusation as part of the sentencing.

According to federal agents' interviews with victims, Fleck could be fawning, crude and, many times, completely ruthless.

To one, he proposed marriage. But he also sent his victims naked images of himself and, in one case, his body fluids. He told others to film themselves performing sexual acts.

He threatened to post those pornographic images online after two girls broke off contact. In another case, he wrote prosecutors anonymously and falsely accused a girl of being involved in a killing.

In another case, he extorted $240 from a young girl in exchange for not sending her parents a sexually explicit video Fleck claimed he filmed of her.

Prosecutors said his scheme was so cunning that he persuaded the girls to buy a cheap type of Polaroid camera that wouldn't require the film to be developed by outsiders. This type of case has become increasingly common in federal court as the FBI, immigration officials and postal inspectors devote more of their resources to the pursuit of online child pornography traffickers. The postal service, in conjunction with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, has launched a promotional campaign warning children how to protect themselves from online predators.

In a separate case in the federal courthouse yesterday, 21-year-old George Alexander Riegel of Reisterstown received a four-year prison sentence after he admitted he sent an undercover agent in Buffalo, N.Y., a zip file containing two videos of an adult male having sex with a young child.

Officials said these cases, including a guilty plea on similar charges Thursday from a former researcher at the National Institutes of Health, are receiving more attention.

"Through the cooperation of law enforcement under the Project Safe Childhood program, predators like Danny Fleck are being brought to justice and removed from society for years to come," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement.

In many ways, Fleck's capture was serendipity.

Transportation Security Administration agents at the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport discovered banned items -- a lighter and small knife -- in his luggage. Fleck was about to board a flight in October 2003 to Texas.

When agents searched his belongings, they found the tools of his deceptive trade -- two address books filled with hundreds of names, e-mail addresses and Instant-Messaging screen names. He also carried stuffed animals, children's toys, pornographic pictures of children and condoms.

Yesterday, his attorney, Jonathan Paul Van Hoven, pleaded with the judge to impose a 10-year sentence. Fleck, the lawyer said, had had a good life before he spent more than four years terrorizing young girls.

But Davis agreed with Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry M. Gruber, who called Fleck's actions "classic predatory behavior."

"The defendant did not make a mere, one-time mistake," Gruber said. "He lied to them, manipulated them and altered their lives forever."

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