COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - A Columbus man admits that he created fake MySpace accounts in order to get underage girls to send him pornographic photos.
Joseph Reese, 31, cried as he pleaded guilty to the Receipt of Child Pornography before United States District Court Judge Clay Land in federal court Wednesday morning.
Between June and August of 2009, the father of two small children made two fictitious MySpace accounts using a fake name and pretended to be a talent scout for a modeling agency. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mel Hyde says Reese was contacted by at least five random underage girls from New Jersey, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Washington who responded to his posts about modeling jobs.
At first, Reese asked for semi-nude pictures of the girls but Hyde says his requests got more graphic, asking them to send fully nude photos of themselves. In one case, he asked for pictures of one of the victims engaged in sex acts with her boyfriend.
Reese used blackmail to keep the pornographic pictures coming. He told the girls he would tamper with their family's finances, issue subpoenas or even upload their nude photos to their own personal MySpace accounts if they refused to send any more to him. In one case, Hyde says Reese followed through with his threats, posting naked pictures to one of the girl's accounts and photos of her masturbating with various objects.
In an interview with the FBI, Reese admitted to creating the fake accounts on his personal computer and threatening the victims.
Reese was arrested by the FBI last May. He has been out on bond and his attorney asked the judge for him to be confined to his home before his sentencing in a few weeks. The government did not object, saying Reese never had any direct contact with underage girls and has not approached any underage children in the community.
Judge Land agreed but is requiring him to wear an ankle bracelet and says he cannot not be alone with his 2-year-old and 5-year-old without Reese's own parents being present. Reese is staying with his mother and father until he receives his prison sentence in a few weeks. He is not allowed to use a computer.
Joseph Reese faces a minimum of five years in prison but he could be sentenced up to 20 years behind bars. He could also face up to a $250,000 fine and up to three years of supervised release. He must also register as a sex offender.
Reese's attorney, Richard Hagler, says his plea deal with the government was his only real option. By pleading guilty to the Receipt of Child Pornography, the United States Attorney's Office agreed to drop his other two charges: The Possession of Child Pornography and the Production of Child Pornography. If convicted by a jury on the production charge alone, Reese faced between 15-40 years in prison.
Hagler says Reese "operates at a level far below that of a normal adult man" and has been diagnosed with social anxiety. He says since his arrest, Reese has lost his job, is in the middle of a divorce, will lose custody of his children and will be branded for the rest of his life.
"I really do believe, in his mind, that there's a disconnect between real people on the other end of the computer and I think that's one of the problems when you start dealing with computer crimes. It takes the humanity out of it and the human element. I don't he yet understands the significance or the effect it has on the person on the other end of that computer. Unfortunately, he wandered into an area without realizing the kinds of consequences it could carry," Hagler told WTVM Wednesday.
"It needs to be a reminder to all people that get involved in community over the computer that there really are a lot of dangers lying out there and there are real people on the other end and there are real consequences," he added.