A former employee of the Minot Public School District was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison Friday for possessing child pornography.
Christian Robert Webb, 41, a former computer technician, was arrested in May 2010 after a link to Webb was discovered during investigation of an Australian man arrested on suspicion of molesting children.
Federal agents were made aware of chat logs that appeared to discuss the live sexual abuse of a child, through an Internet address financed by and belonging to the school district and assigned to Webb for use as a teacher and IT administrator.
Because the chat logs involved live abuse of a child, agents interviewed Webb, who told them initially that they may find "around 10 to 15 images of child pornography" on the computer assigned to him by the school. Webb raised that estimate later in the interview to around 100 images.
Forensic specialists discovered multiple images involving the sexual abuse of children, including videos from live webcam streams saved to an external hard drive.
Though those videos, investigative leads provided to other law enforcement agencies has resulted thus far in the arrest of six individuals in Washington, Kansas, Ohio, Louisiana and Texas, as well as the rescue of eight children from physically and sexually abusive situations, according to federal court documents.
Other videos involve adult males exposing themselves to Webb and masturbating, as well as the live abuse of children at Webb's direction. Webb was also known to use an alias, posing as a young girl and directing others in live sexual acts.
U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland issued a sentencing memorandum on Friday in which he lashed out at Webb.
"The crime committed by (Webb) is serious and despicable," Hovland stated.
"This is not the routine or typical case involving a defendant convicted of receipt or possession of materials involving the sexual exploitation of children," Hovland continued. "The defendant did not simply receive or possess images of child pornography. He was a live spectator and an active participant in live, streaming video webcams which depicted the sexual molestation of young, innocent children.
"The record reveals that Webb regularly contacted pedophiles through a chat line on Yahoo. Webb used two usernames - one in which he portrayed himself as a young, bisexual male, and the other in which he portrayed himself as a young, promiscuous female - to manipulate others to sexually abuse children while Webb watched via the other subject's webcam. In other words, each of the adult participants was actively involved in the sexual abuse of young male and female children, and were willing to allow each other to view the abuse using a web camera.
"At the time of his arrest, Webb had in his possession at least 75 webcam videos (and possibly up to 150 videos) which depicted the live, sexual abuse of children."
Hovland did specify that Webb was "not the person depicted in the live video webcams who physically committed the sexual assaults on the innocent children.
"However, he unquestionably played an active role as a participant who not only viewed the live images as they were actually being produced, but also encouraged the victimization through his communications with the sexual perpetrators who were at the production end of the spectrum."
Hovland said that although Webb "may not be the worst of the worst," his encouragement and participation "ranks near the top."
"The court has seen a wide range of disturbing and deviant behavior by pedophiles convicted of sexual crimes, but this is a first," Hovland stated.
Hovland continued to state that because Webb assisted in the investigation and prosecution of some of the other individuals involved, the government recommended a significant downward departure in federal sentencing guidelines of one-third, which would possibly mete out a sentence of only 81 months.
"The Court is not obligated to explicitly state its reasons for granting or denying a motion for downward departure," Hovland stated. "Suffice it to say that the Court has carefully and independently considered the criteria. A sentence of 81 months would be a travesty of justice."
Hovland also stated that should there be a challenge to the seven-month downward departure he did grant, he gave serious consideration to an upward variance to 18-20 years.
"The statutory maximum sentence for the offense to which Webb pled guilty is 20 years," Hovland stated. "The evil that occurred in this case is unimaginable. Christian Webb is far from a sympathetic defendant. The fact that there are men like Webb who work in positions of trust and authority, who are educators in our public school systems, and who prey on vulnerable children is horrifying and despicable. A lifetime in federal prison for such persons is probably not strong enough."
Webb's 144-month sentence will be followed by a lifetime of probation and registration as a sex offender.