URBANA — A former University of Illinois Ph.D. student who admitted he had child pornography on his computer last year has been sentenced to 3-1/2 years in federal prison.
Oscar Hernando Moreno Torres, 40, who last lived in the 2000 block of South Orchard Street, Urbana, received the sentence Friday from federal Judge Michael McCuskey.
Defense attorney Steve Beckett of Urbana said the sentence was six months less than the lowest he's ever seen in a possession of child pornography case and said that even Assistant U.S. Attorney Elly Peirson admitted Moreno Torres' circumstances were different from many of the child pornographers she has dealt with.
In May, Moreno Torres pleaded guilty to a single count of possession of child pornography, admitting that he had lewd images of a young girl on his computer in 2012. Urbana police investigator Tim McNaught discovered the images on a peer to peer file sharing network in May, June and July on computers that Torres was using at the UI and his home, according to his guilty plea.
Beckett said his client, who was an assistant professor of civil engineering in Colombia, came to the United States in 2006 as a Fulbright Scholar with the intention of getting his Ph.D. in civil engineering so he could return to Colombia to teach as a full professor.
Beckett said Moreno Torres cooperated with the government in explaining how he obtained the pornography but denied that he repeatedly looked at it and maintained he never shared it.
"Once that stuff's on your computer, unless you delete it, it's still there," said Beckett, who said Moreno Torres downloaded it after seeing an interview with a child pornography victim.
"There was an America's Most Wanted show with Vicky, who was victimized when she was a child. He goes online and uses a file sharing program and gets video of her. The stuff was on his computer for years. They (police) can link in to your computer and find if you have it on your hard drive," said Beckett.
"He made a huge mistake," said Beckett, adding that Moreno Torres told McCuskey he hoped his experience would serve as a warning and an education to others who might be tempted to download the images.
Beckett said Moreno Torres was arrested on Nov. 27, 2012, the same day he handed in his dissertation.
"Two weeks later he would have defended it and been gone. He didn't get to do that. Because he was from Colombia, the government argued he was a flight risk and he's been in jail ever since," said Beckett.
Beckett told the judge that in a separate disciplinary proceeding at the UI, Moreno Torres was dismissed from the university but will be allowed to reapply in March of 2015.
Beckett said his client had no criminal record and has a wife in Colombia, supportive parents and many friends at the UI. The combination of his cooperation with the government, the circumstances of his offense and his background netted him the relatively low sentence. Under federal sentencing guidelines he could have received up to eight years.
Moreno Torres was one of eight men indicted in December as part of a larger investigation into the possession of child pornography in the Central District dubbed "Operation Blue Monday."