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Local man linked to child pornography case

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NEW PALESTINE — A child pornography case that originated in Texas has resulted in federal charges against a Hancock County man.

Justin Cole, 23, of New Palestine, was arrested late last week after his email account was linked to a man charged in July in Texas with distributing sexually explicit photos of children.

Once police traced the email account to Cole, they found “numerous emails containing child pornography,” according to federal charging documents.

A search of Cole’s computers found thousands of explicit images and hundreds of videos, all involving children.

Multiple online chats discussing trading child pornography were also uncovered, charging documents state.

When interviewed by investigators, Cole admitted the images and videos were his, saying he “has a sickness for which there is no cure and that he thinks about child pornography several times a day,” court documents state.

Cole told police he also had pictures saved on his cellphone and provided the device to police.

Cole is charged with distribution of child pornography, which carries a penalty of 20 years and $250,000 in fines, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Cases like Cole’s, which begin with charges in one jurisdiction and lead to defendants in areas that are states or even countries away, are becoming increasingly common, U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett said.

The ever-expanding nature of the Internet has changed how and where cases are prosecuted, Hogsett said, noting his office has pursued cases reaching as far as the United Kingdom and Serbia.

“There is a reason why it’s called the World Wide Web,” Hogsett said. “It truly is worldwide.”

Individuals’ actions on the Internet can leave a digital footprint for investigators to trace, even in instances where the defendants have used dummy email accounts and taken other deceptive measures to cloak their activity.

Some defendants are more sophisticated than others, but ultimately, there is little anonymity on the Internet, Hogsett said.

“Sometimes, it takes us awhile to track down all of the parties, but ultimately, because we have such advanced methodologies of forensics in this area, we are able to find and trace the network. Once we establish one violator, it is very likely and usual that we are able to connect the dots.”

Cole had an initial hearing and was released on his own recognizance, said Hogsett.

Cole is ordered to have no use of technology, including computers and cellphones. He is also ordered to have no contact with children.

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