Members of the First United Methodist Church in Royse City were in shock when they learned that their pastor, Steve Richardson, had been arrested by agents of the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) on charges relating to child pornography.
Richardson was taken into custody on Wednesday on a charge of transporting child pornography, at which time agents confiscated his computer and executed warrants at his home and church.
According to a statement released by the office of U.S. Attorney Richard B. Roper, Richardson has already admitted to ICE agents that he had been trading child pornography online using his work computer.
The trading apparently took place on a “Google Hello” Internet program.
The arrest was the result of a long-term investigation by ICE that involved at least two other persons.
According to Roper’s statement, the investigation began in August 2007 when ICE Special Agents executed a search warrant in a child pornography investigation at the residence of an individual who consented to agents assuming his online presence to communicate with individuals involved in distributing child pornography.
On December 20, 2007, an ICE Special Agent, using that online identity in an undercover capacity said he communicated with and received an image of child pornography from Hello user “cowboysspades.” He received a total of six images from “cowboysspades,” one of which fits the definition of child pornography (the other images would be considered child erotica).
In a Sept. 26, 2007 ICE raid, special agents executed a search warrant on a private residence which resulted in the seizure of computers and arrest of an individual for possession of child pornography.
That individual advised that one of the screen names he remembered trading with on Google Hello was “cowboysspades” and that “cowboysspades” had sent him “homemade” images within the past three months.
Examination of that person’s computer revealed a folder named “from coyboysspades,” which contained approximately 30 images of child pornography.
According to investigators, the Google Hello records for “cowboysspades” lists the email address as “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Further investigation revealed that the Yahoo! e-mail name “email@example.com” is registered to Steve Richardson in Royse City, Texas, with the same IP address as one of the nine IP addresses “cowboysspades” used to logon to his Hello account.
The statement goes on to say, “Further forensic investigation revealed additional chats between ‘cowboysspades’ and others. In one, ‘cowboysspades’ received and distributed dozens of images of child pornography including several images of infants engaged in sexually explicit conduct.”
Steve Richardson and his wife adopted an infant girl from Ethiopia, which they brought home to the United States on May 5. Currently, there is no reference to the international adoptee in the criminal complaint.
Church looks for recovery
The news hit hard for members of Richardson’s church, which will now begin the process of looking for new leadership.
The pews were full for a congregational meeting that was held on Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. District Superintendent Pat Beghtel-Mahle ran the meeting in which congregation members asked for answers to the charges and the direction the church would be taking going forward.
Beghtel-Mahle was unable to answer most of the questions from members regarding the specifics of the case. She said that she had been trying to get information from law enforcement officials, but that not much had been released.
“I know there will be more information coming out about his innocence or guilt, whichever that may be,” she said.
Faced with the question of how members should deal with questions raised by their children, Beghtel-Mahle suggested openness.
“I think you’ll have to answer your children’s questions as honestly as you can without giving away the whole wagon-load, but what we don’t want to do is keep secrets.”
Beghtel-Mahle said that at present Richardson was “suspended” from his position with the church. She stated that she was the acting pastor for the church, but that most of the day-to-day church operations would be handled by the church’s current associate pastor.
Richardson came to Royse City in August of 2006 following five years of service with the First United Methodist Church in Boyd.