A former Cape Coral attorney accused of sexually exploiting two boys is facing new charges in connection to an alleged child pornography ring that shared explicit material via online chat rooms.
On Nov. 21, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Indiana announced that John Rex Powell, 42, of Fort Myers, had been charged with participating in a conspiracy to distribute and receive videos and images of child exploitation. Eleven men were indicted in the case, according to officials.
"This conspiracy allegedly stretched across the country and around the world, using sophisticated techniques to hide the orchestrated abuse of dozens of child victims," U.S. Attorney Joseph Hogsett said via a prepared statement. "As these men have learned, though, you aren't anonymous online."
"If you engage in this type of behavior, you will be identified and you will face justice," he said.
According to officials, the conspiracy began in 2000 and continued until April 2002. The men ran various online chat rooms that were protected by a password that was available only to the involved parties. They were used to share child pornography and to discuss and promote child exploitation.
The indictment alleges that many members had amassed large collections of explicit material. They used the rooms to expand their collections and evade law enforcement with data encryption software.
In addition, at least four defendants allegedly conspired to sexually exploit children and produce new videos and images of the abuse, which could then be distributed to the members of the conspiracy.
Hogsett reported that nearly 100 children worldwide have been identified as victims of abuse.
The 11 defendants all face up to decades in prison if convicted, according to officials. They also could face significant fines, as well as a lifetime supervised release and registration as a sexual offender.
Powell was previously charged with conspiracy to sexually exploit a child and five counts of sexual exploitation of a child by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Indiana for reportedly sexually exploiting two boys between 2009 and 2011. As of Tuesday, his jury trial was set for Jan. 6.
According to court documents, Powell and three other men were involved in an international child exploitation conspiracy that involved a boy between the ages of 5 and 6. Powell and Jason Bettuo, 36, were participants in the scheme, orchestrated by Mark Jonathan Newton, 42, and Peter Truong, 36.
Newton, an American citizen living in Australia, and Truong, an Australian citizen and Newton's domestic partner, were the legal adoptive parents of the victim. They traveled to the United States and elsewhere with the boy to allegedly meet with other men and record sexual abuse against the boy.
During the scheme, Newton and Truong allegedly engaged in a conspiracy to transport the child pornography produced during the encounters to individuals around the world, including to people in Anderson, Ind., and Arlington, Va. Powell is alleged to have participated in the porn conspiracy.
Officials reported that it was the trafficking of materials that alerted United States Postal Service inspectors and investigators in Indiana to the case, launching a two-year investigation into the men.
"Powell's alleged involvement in both schemes was key in dismantling this conspiracy," Hogsett said, referring to the more recent case involving the online chat rooms.
According to the documents, Powell obtained access to a second boy between 2009 and 2011 on multiple occasions, so that he could repeatedly engage in sexually explicit conduct with the child. The boy, who was between the ages of 8 and 9 at the time, was also used to create child pornography.
In June, Newton was sentenced to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to sexually exploit a child and conspiracy to possess child pornography under an agreement with prosectors.
Truong had pleaded guilty and was awaiting sentencing on charges of conspiring to sexually exploit a child and possessing child pornography. He is scheduled for sentencing Monday.
Bettuo also pleaded guilty and was sentenced Oct. 28 to 25 years in prison, officials reported.