ST. LOUIS – U.S. District Judge Sarah E. Pitlyk on Friday sentenced a real estate agent from South Carolina who admitted soliciting child pornography from a St. Louis area teen to five years in prison.
Ronald Saunders, 37, was also fined $5,000 and ordered to pay $18,000 in restitution to his victim. Judge Pitlyk ordered him to be placed on supervised release for life after his release from prison.
Saunders pleaded guilty Friday to a charge of accessing with the intent to view child pornography. He admitted that between June 3, 2020 and Sept. 21, 2020, he communicated with a 17-year-old St. Louis-area girl by cell phone and via social media apps including TikTok, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Omegle, an anonymous online chat service.
Saunders admitted spending over 73 hours communicating by video with the teen and soliciting and viewing videos and images of the teen that constitute child pornography.
In Friday’s hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jillian Anderson and the victim’s mother said Saunders manipulated the teen into believing there was a romantic relationship.
The victim, during the hearing, said, “I wish every single day we never went on that app,” referring to her initial contact with Saunders and added, “Ever since it happened I’ve never felt more alone.”
The victim said Saunders blamed her when the relationship was discovered. “I just want it to stop hurting,” she said.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has resources to help prevent and report online enticement.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc.