Federal court sentences Evansville, Newburgh men on child porn charges

EVANSVILLE — Two Southern Indiana men are set to serve federal prison terms after prosecutors accused them of using email and the social media app Kik to send images depicting child sexual abuse to each other and to an undercover federal agent.

According to federal court records, 43-year-old Jason E. Jolley of Evansville and 50-year-old Scott J. Spear, of Newburgh, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and receive sexually explicit material involving minors in October.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana Judge Richard L. Young sentenced the men to serve 60 months − or about five years − in the Federal Correctional Institution at Marion, Illinois.

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A grand jury found probable cause to charge Jolley and Spear with two counts of distribution of sexually explicit material involving minors in addition to the conspiracy charge, according to the indictment filed against them.

A federal plea agreement saw those charges dropped in exchange for the men admitting their guilt.

In the indictment, prosecutors accused Jolley and Spear of discussing their "mutual interest in finding and viewing sexually explicit material involving minors" over emails.

Prosecutors said the men followed through on those discussions by attaching and sending illegal, sexually explicit materials between January and February 2016.

Men allegedly used Kik app to send files

In November 2016, the two men allegedly sent an image depicting a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct to an undercover law enforcement officer in Washington D.C. via the social media app Kik — an application that is frequently cited by law enforcement during child sexual abuse investigations, including in Evansville.

The commander of the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, David Frattare told the New York Times in 2016 Kik was the "problem app of the moment."

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One year later, a joint Forbes and Point Report investigation uncovered evidence of a "vast number of child exploitation cases involving the use of Kik." The investigation deemed Kik "the defacto app" for child predators.

Kik is also mentioned in a separate October Evansville child sexual abuse case.

On Oct. 26, a federal judge sentenced 28-year-old Evansville resident Joshua W. LaForrest to serve eight years in federal prison after he allegedly used Kik to send and receive child sexual abuse materials.

In that case, prosecutors said LaForrest conversed with an undercover law enforcement officer posing as a 14-year-old girl via the social media app, sending explicit images of himself and setting up a time to meet and engage in sex.

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According to Kik's website, the company says it takes online safety "very seriously" and has partnered with the organization Thorn to combat child exploitation online.

Kik's Acceptable Use Policy says children as young as 13 are allowed to create accounts.

Perhaps as a signifier of just how commonly Kik is associated with child sexual abuse investigations, the company's website has dedicated portals for "safety" and "law enforcement."

It has also created "guides" for parents and the police.

While Kik has repeatedly touted its efforts to combat child predators on the platform, its terms of service put the onus on parents to police their children's activity.

On a Kik frequently asked questions page for parents, the company says it is the "responsibility of parents and guardians to make sure their teens comply with our Acceptable Use Policy" and do not send "inappropriate messages."

Houston Harwood can be contacted at walter.harwood@courierpress.com with story ideas and questions. Twitter: @houston_whh.

This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Federal court sentences Evansville, Newburgh men on child porn charges