Wednesday, February 21, 2018
News Roundup

A victim of child pornography doesn't get to forget

He sleeps little, suffers panic attacks, can't afford private counseling. Still youthful at 28, he rarely leaves home, fearful of recognition.

"I feel like I am always being watched," he said.

He could move, like he did from Kentucky, but he can never outrun the Internet.

He knows little of Tampa or St. Petersburg except this: Men here, like men everywhere, have viewed graphic photos and videos of him being sexually abused as a boy of 12 to 14.

Government mail tells him of discoveries on the computers of Michael D. Meister of Pinellas Park, Joshua C. Abel of Valrico, Brian Leavitt of Palmetto, Daniel E. Lombardi of St. Petersburg and Kyle C. Muellerleile of Tampa, among thousands of people worldwide who have been caught with his images.

Each week brings more victim notices, 10 to 30 at a time. He could shut them off, but he can't bury a past kept in circulation by strangers who keep finding pleasure in his humiliation.

"It's a monkey on your back that never goes away and always gets heavier," said the sex crime victim, who agreed to an interview on the condition that his name and current location not be divulged.

Similar stories now have the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court, which is poised to clarify a 1994 federal law that allows sexually exploited children to seek full restitution for financial losses such as therapy bills or lost wages.

It's a topic relevant to the Middle District of Florida, which includes the Tampa Bay area. The district led the nation in numbers of child sex-crime prosecutions last year.

Judges already order child porn creators to pay restitution. But should the orders extend to people who download images or make them available to others?

The Kentucky victim thinks so.

"It's taken my happiness, my peace of mind," he said. "It's taken everything. I can't get it back. I can't pretend it didn't happen."

• • •

He was 8 or 9 when a youth counselor befriended the family, showering the boy with affection and helping his mom with bills.

She was a refugee from a bad Texas marriage, trying to raise four kids alone. She once said she settled in northeast Kentucky because it was as far as she could get from her ex-husband without entering Yankee country.

The counselor, Christopher Neil Sologic, was 23.

The boy looked up to him. He had a college education, went to church, worked as a youth counselor and would soon be on the payroll as a social worker for Kentucky Safe, monitoring foster care families.

When he came around, the boy felt like the center of attention.

But there was a cost that became increasingly apparent.

He remembers his half-brother grousing that Sologic shouldn't be trying to give the boy baths.

He remembers confusion in a motel room on an overnight theme park trip — the sensation of being thrown around in a bed, feeling drugged, unable to move.

"I can't even be sure what all he did. It always seemed I was blacked out."

He says he was 12 or 13 when the cameras came out. He remembers margaritas, white Russians, wine and champagne. He remembers being shown pornography so he would know what to do.

"When he started doing pictures, he had me convinced I could be a model. Touching myself, things like that. Videos. He had me convinced I needed to do it to make money."

By the summer of 2000, the boy was spending days and sometimes weeks with Sologic, then 29, in a two-bedroom duplex in which one bedroom was occupied by computer and video equipment.

He was 14 when help came, dispatched by a network of anti-pedophile activists, including a computer hacker who used the name Omni-Potent. They found Sologic through a vanity plate that appeared on a red car in one of the images.

According to a police report, one of the activists reported that the victim was "boy of the month" in the pedophile circuit with about 537 images posted.

An Ashland, Ky., detective made the initial contact with Sologic, before the case got bumped to Kentucky State Police for jurisdictional issues.

The victim says Sologic came home and coached him to lie, told him they would both get in trouble if he told the truth.

"You don't want me to go to jail," he recalls Sologic saying. "This was all your idea."

Was it? For years, the boy would wonder. He would doubt himself. Was he to blame? At 14?

His story shifted. Initially, he told State Police Detective Paul Cales that he made pictures of himself for girls in a chat room. A few weeks later he said this: Men from either Germany or Amsterdam arrived in a pickup offering him $50,000, $80,000 or $35,000 to pose nude.

He told Cales that Chris Sologic had nothing to do with the pictures.

"Chris is the greatest guy in the world," the boy said. "He's done a lot for me and my family."

Detective Cales knows that adults sometimes groom children to be abused. He knows that children will keep secrets, even from themselves. He knows that doorways in young brains close quietly for safety's sake, to keep fear at bay, and when the time is right, doors sometimes open.

The grand jury was not swayed by a boy's defense of a man. Sologic was indicted on a charge of using a minor under 16 in a sexual performance.

But by the time authorities got to Sologic, the computer had been cleaned out.

He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, criminal abuse, and spent a single day in jail.

"I'm guessing our technology then might not be what it is now, and it may have been a matter of proving the case," said David Flatt, who prosecuted Sologic before becoming a Kentucky family court judge.

The Tampa Bay Times tried for weeks to reach Sologic through his family but repeat messages were not returned. His attorney did not know his whereabouts. A search of a law enforcement database turned up nothing.

Cales left the state police. But he routinely travels the country to testify at child porn trials, helping to send others to prison for having been found with the Kentucky boy's images.

• • •

The boy was still 14 when he got a glimpse of the future that is now. He was sitting in a middle school classroom when another kid poked around on a computer and shared what he saw.

There it was. A Web page with the victim's nude photos.

"I thought it was all still confidential," he said.

His mother rushed him out of the state to live with relatives.

When he turned 18, the victim letters started coming.

He became aware of how easily people could view his images.

It drains him to go through the correspondence. An attorney now helps.

Once, at someone's request, the victim wrote a letter of his own to a New York judge describing how the child porn had affected his life. He was surprised to get a restitution check in the mail for $10,000. Some courts interpret restitution laws differently than others. That's why the Supreme Court has been asked to weigh in.

Usually, he stays away from courtrooms.

It chills him to think too much about the people who have viewed the photos and videos.

They include Edward Lee Bodkin of Alabama, once convicted of castrating men without a medical license. He's now in a low-security federal prison in Florida.

There's Maksym Shynkarenko, a Ukrainian extradited to the United States in 2012 to face charges that he operated an international hard-core child porn website.

Others, too, with more normal seeming lives.

Lombardi, 31, was an environmental scientist for Hillsborough County. He had a degree in forestry from the University of Florida, along with 2,698 child porn photos and 115 videos.

Muellerleile, a graduate of Tampa's Gaither High School, had 2,799 photos and 320 videos. His attorney told the judge that the mandatory five-year prison sentence for passing around child porn would be "crippling and incapacitating."

Lombardi got 10 years. Muellerleile got 5 1/2.

The Kentucky victim also gets notices about Meister, the Pinellas Park cancer patient and porn defendant whose trial-delaying travels were described in a July 21 Times article. Meister is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday on charges that began in 2007 with the discovery of hundreds of images of children — including this victim.

The defendants go to court with excuses and apologies.

They never ask what it's like to be him.

• • •

She makes him want to be a better person.

He fears he will lose her.

She wants children. He looks at himself and knows that he would let a child down.

He sees a man with an unstable life, one who can't keep a job.

He hasn't worked steadily in two years. He gets fired because he cusses people out. He has trouble finishing what he starts.

They've known each other since high school, but he waited until this year to tell her about the past.

"She understood," he said, sounding surprised. "She supports me. She's probably the only person who found out about this who didn't treat me different.

"If it wasn't for the love I have for her, I don't know where I'd be right now."

He enrolled in college but didn't stay. There was too much stress in his life.

It's hard for him to talk about what happened. He can't confide in other men. He feels like they judge him, judge his manhood. He knows that talking helps, but sometimes people treat him differently afterward.

He senses the revulsion in them. It's hard not to feel as if it is aimed at him.

He cannot picture freedom from any of this. Not yet.

"What could I have been if I had a normal childhood?" he wonders.

"What could I have been if this didn't happen?"

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.

     
           
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