Authorities say they have identified 23 victims of a Washburn, North Dakota man who will spend the rest of his life in prison for sexually abusing children.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland on Monday sentenced Travis Guenthner 39, to a life term on two counts of coercion or enticement. Guenthner will serve concurrent 30-year sentences on five counts of sexual exploitation of minors. Judge Hovland also ordered Guenthner to pay a $700 special assessment and $1,865.18 in restitution for one victim’s counseling.

Guenthner pleaded guilty in November to the charges as part of a plea agreement in which counts of receipt of materials involving the sexual exploitation of minors and possession of materials involving the sexual exploitation of minor were dismissed.

U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon said the case sends a message to parents to talk to their children about who they talk to online and how to react if someone asks for inappropriate photographs or contact. Parents long have been concerned about what could happen when their children leave their homes, but there may be more risk in what happens behind their bedroom doors. “Every predator in the world now has access to that kid (through the Internet),” he said.

After the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Delorme explained Guenthner’s various means of contacting young girls online. He would pose as a teenage boy in some cases and request photographs from girls. In others, he would pose as a female modeling agent and offer to send a male photographer — himself — to take photographs of girls. Sometimes, he used a pseudonym to ask for the images.

Guenthner told Judge Hovland he would go on http://www.tagged.com and start combing through profiles of 13- to 14-year-old girls and work his way through age ranges, sending out messages in his various manners.

One of the recent disclosures led to the recovery of a Minnesota girl whose mother is alleged to have taken sexually explicit photographs of the girl under Guenthner’s direction. Delorme said Guenthner has not been indicted yet in the case, though the mother was arrested.

Of the known 23 victims, Guenthner had coerced 12 into providing him with nude or sexually explicit images of themselves, six had produced such images and also were sexually assaulted by Guenthner, and five were sexually assaulted by Guenther.

After viewing some of the files on Guenthner’s computer and also understanding how sexual predators operate, it is impossible to believe that Guenthner had only 23 victims.

Prosecutors in the case decided to stick to the plea agreement, which called for him to recommend no more than a 50-year sentence for Guenthner, despite his feeling that it was the “worst possible case, as far as child sexual exploitation, this court has ever seen.

The case came to light through two investigations in 2013 — one on behalf of Homeland Security Investigations and one by Bismarck Police Detectives.

After a Mandan girl reported a man had been soliciting her for nude or sexually explicit photographs through a website, Bismarck detectives created an undercover persona, a 14-year-old girl, and went on the same website. Guenthner began soliciting their false persona and arranged to meet the girl in Bismarck. Local police arrested him at the meeting place.

In the Homeland Security Investigations case, a Wilton woman reported that a woman had been soliciting her 17-year-old daughter for sexually explicit or nude photographs with a man whom the woman would line up.

Investigators in the cases found images of child pornography on several electronic devices belonging to Guenthner and began investigating the files. Some were of downloaded pornography. However, others appeared to have Guenthner’s hand, as identified by a tattoo, and some contained women’s hands.

Guenthner identified one woman as Michelle Laducer, also known as Michelle Griffin. Laducer told investigators she complied with Guenthner’s requests to take photographs of a Rolla girl. Guenthner told her he would give her $200,000 to arrange for him to take sexually explicit photographs of the girl, though she never received money. Guenthner sexually abused the girl in the summer of 2012 at the “Desert” south of Bismarck.Laducer of Rolla, was later sentenced to 30 years in prison for her role in the case.

Investigators also identified another girl in the photographs as a Devils Lake girl with mental disabilities. In addition to a federal charge referring to the girl, Guenthner also faces a Class B felony charge of gross sexual imposition in Ramsey County related to the same girl. A warrant has been issued for his arrest in that case, and he has not made any court appearances in the matter. Additional charges are pending on outstanding cases and more cases are expected to come to light.

What is so unbelievable was that this guy was able to convince some parents and other adults to become active participates in his sexual exploits either through the promise of money or fame and fortune through promised modeling photo shoots and careers as models. So, if he was able to convince adults over the internet, just how many underage girls were also convinced to send explicit photos or to even meet with him? I would guess that this is not his first rodeo and that there are probably hundreds of victims or potential victims out there that we are not aware of. And truth be told, if his memory is sketchy…it is because he is only remembering those case that the authorities know about or that there are so many victims, that he cannot remember them all. We have no idea just how long he has been prowling the internet.

 

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