Feds start seizing homes of child pornographers

CRIME SCENES

Revenue to be put in fund for victims

April 21, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

The brick rancher at the end of the cul-de-sac in Kingsville has three bedrooms, two baths, 1,827 square feet of living space and 1.42 acres of land. It's assessed for tax purposes at $472,830.

It's for sale, and it would seem a steal at the $289,500 asking price. The house has been on the market for 94 days.

The owner is the U.S. Marshals Service, which seized the Harford County house in October and has been trying to sell it for the past three months. Its previous owner, George K. Hayward, was sentenced Monday to 20 years in federal prison for taking pictures of naked children, some as young as 5 years old, inside the house.

Hayward is 72, and his prison term is, as Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in an interview, "effectively a life sentence."

As is common practice, police seized Hayward's computers in which he stored his pictures. But under a new Rosenstein initiative, federal authorities in Maryand also took his house.

Most commonly, police seize assets of the drug dealers, gang members and organized crime figures. Rosenstein said he's extending that practice to send a message to pedophiles, who typically repeat their crimes.

House seizures are made in cases where the pedophiles don't just view pornography inside the house but produce it there, Rosenstein said. Proceeds from the sales will go to a victims' compensation fund.

Federal authorities say Hayward downloaded pictures of children engaged in sexual activity, and he admitted in his guilty plea "that he would have actual children replicate the sexually explicit images shown on the child pornography he received over the Internet."

The investigation of Hayward began in November 2008, Rosenstein said, when a 5-year-old girl and her parents sought help from the Harford County Child Advocacy Center in Bel Air. The girl called Hayward "Mr. Ben," and according to the plea agreement filed in court, she described numerous sex acts.

Police raided the Monica Circle house in 2008 and found 499,000 images on the suspect's computer, according to court documents. Agents said they reviewed 50,000 of the images and found 1,024 pictures and 192 videos of child pornography.

Haywood's house is not the only one being seized. Last week, a Prince George's County man lost his Fruitland home after he pleaded guilty to taking sexually explicit pictures of a neighbor's child. Owners can fight the seizures, but in both these recent cases they agreed to surrender their property as part of their guilty pleas.

The job of selling the Kingsville house fell to Robert Steele, who owns Passport Realty in Mount Vernon. He said that the county had "way over-assessed the property" at nearly a half-million dollars and that even the asking price of $289,500 "was too high."

Rather than wait for a sale, Steele is pulling the house off the market for auction.

In an interview, he said he knew federal law enforcement seized the property — he handles lots of transactions for the Marshals Service — but did not realize a child sex offender had lived there.

Rosenstein said he hopes this new tool will send a message that child pornography remains a priority for his office. Now, pedophiles can go to prison, lose their computers and, as Rosentein said, "they could lose all their property."

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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