Wakeman police help bust Internet porn predator

WAKEMAN In June 2007, a young girl in Wakeman joined a chat room to stay in touch with a friend who
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010

WAKEMAN

In June 2007, a young girl in Wakeman joined a chat room to stay in touch with a friend who moved to Florida.

While exchanging messages online, the girl, who was 10 at the time, was contacted by an online user claiming to be a 14-year-old girl from Texas.

The user seemed nice enough and the Wakeman girl added the "teenager" to her MySpace friends list. It wasn't long before things turned ugly.

After a few comments, the user flooded the girl's inbox with eight images of children being sexually abused, and more than 20 photographs depicting bestiality.

"The (user) asked, 'Do you like horses?' The girl said, 'Yeah, I have a couple.' Then that's when (the user) started talking about other stuff -- sexual type things and I think it was asked if she had seen certain things," said Wakeman investigator Josh Rice.

The girl's mother saw the photos and immediately contacted Wakeman police.

Rice was at home relaxing when he got the call that a young girl from the village was the victim of an online predator. He got to work right away, saving the images and taking down information about the sender. Rice blocked the user from the girl's account, and started tracing the origin of the messages.

Rice found the user wasn't lying about one thing -- living in Texas. About everything else was fabricated.

Michael Latham, 28, of Nacogdoches, Texas, worked for an oil company that kept him on the road. But when he wasn't working, he was often online, using a computer at his mother's house, authorities said.

Latham roamed online chat rooms, starting conversations with people half his age or younger. Pretending to be a young girl, Rice befriended Latham but was unable to coax the Texan into any illegal exchanges.

Rice kept on Latham's trail and contacted the local sheriff's department in that region of Texas. He shared information with deputies and together they began building a case against Latham. Federal agents also got involved.

By the time authorities seized Latham's computer in March of this year, they found he had amassed more than 1,020 videos and images of child pornography.

According to the Internet Crimes Against Children task force, it was some of the most disturbing child pornography ever confiscated.

In late June, the Texas man was arrested in Colorado on a federal warrant for possession and distribution of child pornography. He was extradited to Texas, and pleaded guilty to possession charges last week. He is staring down a 10-year sentence in federal prison.

The sentence was reduced because of Latham's cooperation in naming other child pornography distributors and traders, authorities said.

Police expect this investigation will lead to other arrests.

This case highlights the dangers of children joining the online community, authorities said.

Police say parents need to be diligent to make sure their children have online behaviors that do not expose them to any danger.

"The Internet is not a bad thing, it's just how you use it," Rice said. "These sick people now don't have to go to the malls or the parks in our cities to find young children. They can sit online in the comfort of their home and work on five, 10, 15 children at the same time."