Crime

Child pornography victims sue former Macon banker for restitution

Fearing her husband was having an affair, the wife of a Macon banker snooped through his computer files in 2006.

Her husband, J. Lee Anderson III, was often on the computer late at night. When she’d asked what he was doing, he’d say he was downloading music.

Speaking at a 2009 court hearing, she said she still had flashbacks of the pornographic photos of children she had seen on the computer a few years earlier.

Last week, three women filed a federal lawsuit against Anderson, 53, alleging their pictures were among the more than 300 images of child pornography that federal investigators determined Anderson had in his possession. Anderson, a former Colonial Bank employee, was arrested April 24, 2006.

Identified by the pseudonyms “Amy,” “Vicky” and “Alice,” the women are seeking compensation. Amy and Vicky each are asking for $150,000 and other losses a judge deems appropriate. An amount for Alice’s compensation isn’t specified in the lawsuit.

Details of Anderson’s wife discovering the photos are contained in files from the Bibb County District Attorney Office’s prosecution of Anderson. The Telegraph reviewed them after filing an Open Records Act request.

Telegraph reporter Amy Leigh Womack talks on Facebook Live about her story about three child pornography victims who have sued a Macon man for restitution for his having pornographic pictures of them.

Anderson also was charged by federal prosecutors.

In 2009, he pleaded guilty to a federal child pornography possession charge and was sentenced to 70 months in prison followed by 20 years of supervision.

Anderson was brought back to Macon from federal prison in 2011 to plead guilty to two counts of sexual exploitation of children. He was sentenced to 20 years, eight of them in prison to run simultaneously with his federal sentence.

Prison records show Anderson was released from federal custody on Oct. 7, 2014, and don’t reflect him entering a Georgia Department of Corrections facility.

The state paroled him in 2013.

Attempts to contact Anderson for comment last week were unsuccessful.

Victims of child pornography often don’t know they can pursue damages or can’t be identified in photos to even know who has a copy. Emma Hetherington, director of The University of Georgia School of Law’s Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation Clinic

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, isn’t the first of it’s kind, but legal actions like it aren’t widespread either.

Victims of child pornography often don’t know they can pursue damages, or they can’t be identified in photos to even know who has a copy, said Emma Hetherington, director of The University of Georgia School of Law’s Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation Clinic.

What’s more, victims may not have the money to hire a lawyer, she said.

Many victims still are minors, said James R. Marsh, a New York attorney who has represented Amy — who’s now in her mid 20s — in a number of lawsuits seeking restitution since 2008.

“We’re really at the beginning of the beginning,” he said. “The victims are still so young and still so traumatized.”

Child pornography: An ‘ongoing assault’

Amy has filed a series of suits seeking to collect a total of $3.4 million in restitution, Marsh said.

“We’re about halfway there,” he said.

Marsh said Amy’s parents first contacted him in 2007, when Amy was 15 or 16, after Amy had begun receiving notices that she was a victim in federal cases involving child pornography. A law had gone into effect in 2005, requiring that victims be notified, although they can opt out.

By 2008, Amy was receiving notice of a new case every day.

Including prosecutions on the state level, Marsh estimates there’s likely a thousand new cases being prosecuted annually involving Amy’s pictures.

Amy was 8 and 9 years old when she was repeatedly raped and photographed in the production of child pornography that’s become “one of the most widely trafficked sets of child sex abuse images in the world,” according to the lawsuit.

Seattle-based attorney Carol Hepburn said the case against Anderson is one of about five Vicky has filed, and it’s the second for Alice. She represents both women.

You don’t know who out there is around you, looking at the pictures of your rape as a child.

Attorney Carol Hepburn

Vicky was 10 and 11, or younger, when she was forced to perform sex acts, including being “put in bondage” while her picture was taken, according to the suit.

Alice was 3 and 4 years old when after preschool, or late at night, she was dressed up for “photo shoots” that included sex acts, according to the lawsuit.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has identified more than 6,000 victims of child pornography and still is working to identify more, Hepburn said.

Analysts with the center’s Child Victim Identification Program matched images from Anderson’s computer from multiple series, including photos of each of the women as children, according to the lawsuit.

The three women, who all live outside Georgia, allege they suffer from “extreme and permanent emotional distress with physical manifestations” and that the continued distribution of the images have caused a loss of past and future wages, a decreased lifelong income earning capacity, past and future expenses for medical and psychological treatment and other losses, according to the suit.

Hepburn said Vicky and Alice both have gone into “full blown panic attacks” on the job.

“You don’t know who out there is around you, looking at the pictures of your rape as a child,” she said. “It could be anybody. It could be your boss, your co-workers … it could be anybody who comes in.”

Marsh said child pornography is a crime that’s unlike an accident because “it’s an ongoing assault. It’s an ongoing trauma. It’s an ongoing sense of insecurity and embarrassment.”

‘We need to stop it somehow’

Anderson, like many other people convicted of possession of child pornography, wasn’t ordered to pay restitution as part of either his state or federal sentencings.

As the law is written now, victims wanting to sue for restitution must search out each person who had a copy of their picture — or distributed it — and file suits across the nation.

If passed, the Amy and Vicky Act pending in Congress could streamline the process, providing guidelines requiring restitution as part of the criminal proceedings, Marsh said.

The bill passed the Senate 98-0 nearly two years ago but is stuck in the House of Representatives despite having 74 co-sponsors split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, he said.

The victims are getting younger and younger.

Attorney Carol Hepburn

Even if victims are successful in their suits, collection rates are low, Hepburn said.

Hepburn, who represents 11 victims in several cases, said she has about a 10-percent collection rate.

“A lot of these guys are collecting disability and living in their mother’s basements,” Hepburn said. “They have enough money for a computer and for internet, but they don’t have money for their victims.”

For some who otherwise would have money, the cost of defending themselves in the criminal cases depletes their resources, she said.

The child pornography trade has exploded with the use of the internet, which allows people to find like-minded peers and a sense of community, Hepburn said.

“The victims are getting younger and younger,” she said. “In many cases there are infants and toddlers” who are having pictures and videos taken of them.

“The acts that they are perpetrating against these kids are getting more and more egregious. It’s just horrendous. …We need to stop it somehow.”

Amy Leigh Womack: 478-744-4398, @awomackmacon

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