File Photo

Wayne White | Managing Editor

TOPEKA—A former Osage City Council member faces at least five years in a federal penitentiary after pleading guilty to three child pornography charges last week in U.S. District Court.

Jason Croucher, 27, Osage City, pleaded guilty Oct. 13 to two counts of receiving or distributing child pornography and one count of possessing child pornography. During the plea hearing, Croucher admitted he committed the crimes said to have occurred May 11, May 14, and June 22, 2009.

According to Jim Cross, public affairs officer for the U.S. Attorney in the District of Kansas, Croucher was targeted as a suspect when FBI agents in San Diego, Calif., investigated an invitation-only file sharing service.

“The FBI tracked the IP address back to Mr. Croucher’s address,” Cross said Monday.

An IP address is a unique number that is assigned to every computer connected to the Internet.

Cross said the FBI downloaded files from Croucher’s computers in May 2009, resulting in the charges for receiving or distributing child pornography. On June 22, 2009, the FBI searched Croucher’s residence in Osage City and found evidence to support the charge of possession of child pornography.

Cross said the network infiltrated by the FBI was based on LimeWire, a commonly used file-sharing software available on the Internet. Network users can download files from computers of other users.

“Everything received is eligible to be distributed,” Cross said.

Cross said the FBI found three folders on Croucher’s computers containing files received through the file sharing service. One folder contained 700 images of child pornography; two other folders held a total of 23 child pornography videos, he said.

Croucher was arrested June 4, 2010, in Osage City after being indicted by a federal grand jury in Topeka June 2. He was released from custody pending trial after a judge entered not guilty pleas for him at the June 4 hearing.

After the arrest, Croucher’s attorney, Thomas Haney, Topeka, noted the indictment “only involves the use of the Internet.” Haney described the indictment as serious, but said, “[Croucher] is not charged with abuse of children or trying to entice any children. There was no direct communication with any children or attempt to communicate with any children.”

At the time of the search of Croucher’s home, he lived with a roommate. Cross said the roommate was not a suspect in the case, and no one else in Osage County was arrested as a result of the investigation.

“They only charged Mr. Croucher,” Cross said.

Sentencing is set for Dec. 20. Croucher faces a penalty of not less than five years and not more than 20 years and a fine up to $250,000 on each count of receiving and distributing child pornography, and a maximum penalty of 10 years and a fine up to $250,000 on the possession charge.

Cross said Croucher would undergo a pre-sentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.

“They will gather all of the information relevant to sentencing,” Cross said. “They take specific information of a defendant’s life and case and calculate sentencing guidelines.”

The U.S. Probation Office will then present the guidelines to a judge who decides the sentence. The judge has the authority to depart from the guidelines, and decide if the sentences will run concurrently or consecutively.

“The guidelines are not mandatory but are frequently honored,” Cross said.

He noted the mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison applies in two of the charges Croucher was convicted of, but federal prisoners are eligible for up to 15 percent off of the sentence for good behavior.

He said that until the sentencing hearing, Croucher would be held in an undisclosed location. The Federal Bureau of Prisons will determine which federal penitentiary Croucher will be held in following sentencing.

Croucher resigned as a member of the Osage City Council on July 21, 2009, without giving a reason. He was elected to the position in April 2007. Croucher had been an employee at The Osage County Herald-Chronicle until he resigned in June 2008.

The case was prosecuted as part of the U.S. Justice Department’s Project Safe Childhood, introduced in 2006 to combat the increase of sexual predators using the Internet to entice and sexually exploit children.