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Former Bandera resident gets 20 years for child porn

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

A federal judge in San Antonio recently sentenced a former Bandera resident to 20 years in the United States Bureau of Prisons on one count of distribution of child pornography and three counts of possession of child pornography.

In December 2011, John Roman Lavota Jr., 62, entered guilty pleas to the charges of possession of child pornography. However, he pleaded not guilty to the distribution charge. At the time, Lavota's federal public defender, Alfredo R. Villarreal, requested a bench trial in front of Judge Xavier Rodriguez of the US Western District Court of Texas on the remaining charge. On Dec. 13, 2011, Rodriguez found Lavota guilty of distribution of child pornography.

After numerous continuances for sentencing, Rodriguez sentenced Lavato on Wednesday, July 17, to imprisonment for a total of 240 months - 240 months on the distribution charge and 120 months on each of the three possession charges to run concurrently.

After his release from prison, will be on "supervised release" for 20 years. During that time, he must comply with special sex offender conditions.

During the one-day trial, US Attorney Tracy Thompson argued that a file-sharing network used by Lavota had enabled others to access the child pornography images. Villarreal countered that his client might have distributed the images purely by accident.
However, Rodriguez disagreed, noting the government had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Lavota had downloaded visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit behavior. According to court documents, the defendant saved the depictions in his computer on hard drives then distributed the visual depictions via the Frostwire file-sharing program, making the images of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct available to other users on Gnutella, a peer-to-peer network.

"Special Agent Freddy Miller was able to download the image from the defendant's computer to his computer," the document revealed. Miller was one of several special agents with the Department of Homeland Security who testified at Lavota's trial.

Since his arrest in Bandera in January 2011, Lavota had been in federal custody. He remains in custody until transportation to an incarceration facility.

After federal agents instituted an evidentiary search warrant at his former residence on Galveston Street, Lavota readily admitted to possessing, distributing and selling child pornography, eventually pleading guilty to possessing more than 100,000 images and over 700 videos of prepubescent children or young adolescents, ranging in ages from nine to 19 years, engaged in sexual acts, according to court documents.

During the search, agents with the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division (ICE) of the Department of Homeland Security recovered what was described as Bandera's largest cache of child pornography. Shortly after the raid, Vincent Iglio, now acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations, San Antonio, reported that 17 computers, seven duffel bags of CDs and more than 3,000 videos of child porn had been seized from the suspect's home.

"Agents indicated that this was one of the largest stashes of child porn they had come across in quite sometime," said Richard Smith, who, at that time, served as chief deputy with the Bandera County Sheriff's Office.

At the time of Lavota's sentencing, Iglio said, "This child predator can no longer victimize innocent children. He will spend many years behind bars."

A multi-billion dollar industry, child pornography has become one of the fastest-growing criminal activities on the Internet. In recent years, increased attention has been given to the presence and availability of child pornography in cyberspace. Laws such as the Child Online Protection Act and the Children's Internet Protection Act, which outlaw child pornography, cover new media such as websites and other online forms of child pornography.

Once images of sexually exploited children are posted online, those images essentially circulate forever.

The children are re-victimized as the images are viewed again and again.