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Dublin teen guilty in child porn case

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

ROANOKE — A Dublin teen pleaded guilty Monday to sexually exploiting minors by possessing and trading pornographic images and videos online.

Ethen Tangtong pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Roanoke to publishing a notice or advertisement online between September and December 2017 offering to distribute products depicting minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

According to court files, the advertisement included “teaser folders” containing images of clothed minors, including images taken inside a school. In a criminal complaint, a federal agent described those images as “sexually focused” and intended to “trade for sexual purposes.”

The complaint notes, “Images include girls, who are pictured clothed and in a school environment or in bathing suits. However, the photo subjects are not aware they are being photographed in the gym.”

It also indicated images in Tangtong’s possession included video taken inside the bathroom of a residence using a hidden camera installed for a year or two, and images of a 7-year-old female child.

Minutes from Monday’s hearing, available online, indicate Tangtong entered his guilty plea absent an agreement with prosecutors. Judge Michael Urbanski ordered a background report on Tangtong prior to sentencing March 20.

A former Pulaski County High School student, Tangton is being held at Roanoke City Jail. He was incarcerated there April 19 and later denied bond. A judge indicated in bond hearing minutes that Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office was involved in an investigation prior to Tangtong’s 18th birthday in which Tangtong had obtained images of minors.

That judge ruled a home plan presented by the teen’s parents in hope of release from jail would not be sufficient. He expressed concern the plan wouldn’t guarantee the safety of identified or yet-to-be identified victims.

According to documents related to the federal indictment, the advertisement for pornographic images was published on a Russian-based internet bulletin board. Authorities linked the advertisement to an IP, or internet protocol, address of a computer associated with the defendant’s residence. Tangtong lived with his mother at the time.

During an interview authorities conducted with Tangtong at the Dublin residence in December 2017, Tangtong is alleged to have commented, “I’ve gotten myself into something. I know you get 15 years federally.” An agent told a federal judge in November that Tangtong engaged in “incremental truth telling” until learning the residence was about to be searched for evidence.

In November, the defense attempted to have Tangtong’s incriminating statements suppressed during trial. Tangtong contended authorities failed to read him the Miranda warning prior to the interview, that the statements weren’t voluntarily made and that agents failed to provide him with an attorney upon request by himself and his mother.

Urbanski denied the motion to suppress. He pointed out a Miranda warning was not needed because agents clearly informed Tangtong he was not under arrest, did not have to talk to them and was free to leave if he wanted. The judge also ruled the statements were voluntary since agents did not use any deceptive or forceful tactics to obtain them.

As for Tangtong’s mother requesting a lawyer for her son, the judge said a third party cannot make such a request and there is no evidence Tangtong requested an attorney or asked his mother to request one.

Court records show the mother testified at the suppression hearing that she heard Tangtong ask officers if he needed an attorney. However, Urbanski refers to her testimony as “exceedingly unclear” and “exceedingly inconsistent.”

According to the judge’s ruling, the mother’s testimony ranged from she did hear him ask, she doesn’t recall if she heard him ask, and “I thought I did, but now I’m so confused. I thought he did.”

Even if Tangtong had been in custody and asked whether he needed an attorney, the judge ruled, invoking his right to an attorney “in the form of a question would not require the officers to discontinue the interview.”

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