URBANA – A Rossville man who formerly worked as a youth pastor pleaded innocent in federal court Monday to five counts of sexual exploitation of children.
Andrew L. Thomas, 46, who listed an address in Rossville, was charged with attempting to coerce boys to engage in sexually explicit conduct for photos between January 2007 and March 2010.
Each of the five counts carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison. The maximum sentence for each count is 30 years.
U.S. Magistrate Judge David Bernthal ordered Thomas to remain in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service until his trial, which is scheduled to begin on Nov. 29.
Thomas was arrested on March 16 after a 15-year-old boy told a Vermilion County sheriff's deputy that he had been inappropriately touched by Thomas, a former youth pastor at the First Church of Christ in Rossville.
While police interviewed the victim, they learned that Thomas may have images of other minor boys on DVDs and on his laptop computer.
The Vermilion County sheriff's office seized Thomas' computer and asked the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to assist in the investigation after pornographic images of minors were found on the computer.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elly M. Peirson described an elaborate scheme involving social networking sites, e-mails, cell phones and instant messaging allegedly used by Thomas to entice the boys to send him pornographic images of themselves.
She said Thomas had daily contact with minors through his work as a track coach at Rossville-Alvin Elementary School and as a youth pastor.
He allegedly disguised himself by using girls' names online and in email and text messages.
According to court documents, Thomas sent pornographic images of girls to the boys, to entice them to send him back pornographic images of themselves.
After a federal grand jury issued a subpoena for Internet Protocol addresses used for the e-mail and instant message accounts, federal agents linked the IP addresses to the Rossville Church of Christ.
Investigators tracked messages from the various personas to a wireless router allegedly used from one of Thomas' next door neighbors without permission, a location in Hoopeston that Thomas visited on Thanksgiving Day 2009, a free wireless service Thomas allegedly used when he was staying at the Sleep Inn in Columbia, S.C., and a site in Limerick, Ireland, during a trip Thomas made there.
Investigators traced text messages to two pay-as-you-go cell phones purchased at the Walmart Supercenter at 4101 N Vermilion St., Danville. Police said the credit card used to purchase the phones was the same one Thomas used when he stayed at the Sleep Inn.
Peirson said Thomas' own MySpace account showed him with his arms around one of the victims and lists another victim as a "friend."