A former Lincolnton merchant has been sentenced for his involvement in a national child pornography ring and will spend at least the next six years behind bars.
A federal judge read 40-year-old James Paul Byrd’s fate Wednesday in a Statesville courtroom, more than a year after he pleaded guilty to the charges. Byrd received a sentence of 87 months in federal prison, according to a press release issued Thursday afternoon by the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in the state’s Western district.
Byrd marketed photos of young girls and other child erotica on multiple Facebook pages he managed called “girls, girls, girls :)” and “little girls like to play too :)” along with one by the name of “Stephanie Stewart,” uploading 10,000 images between January and April 2010, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Images located on technology seized from his residence in August 2010 included “violent depictions” of children being raped and abused, the release said.
Byrd admitted to using the page to locate individuals with a sexual interest in pubescent and pre-pubescent females, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said at the time of his arrest.
A grand jury indicted Byrd along with five other defendants in November 2010. Byrd pled guilty in July 2011 to one count each of distribution of child pornography and conspiracy to distribute, pander and possess child pornography, the release said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to release further information about the children shown in the photos, including their general location, in order to avoid identifying them. However, they did not rule out the possibility that some of them could be local children.
Other individuals accused of participating in the Internet child porn ring also created pages under the names “Buffy Tanner” and “Katy Cat,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Byrd was a business owner and one-time bank manager in Lincolnton, where many who knew him expressed shock at the time of his arrest. He once owned and operated Byrd’s Sundries, an ice cream shop on East Main Street. He and his wife bought the property in 2001 and still own the storefront, which currently houses Treasures on Main, the county tax office told the Times-News on Thursday.
Following Byrd’s release from federal prison, he’ll be forced to undergo a decade of supervised release and register for a 15-year period as a sex offender.
Byrd was the only North Carolina defendant named in the case. Others included Michael Engelking, 37, of Alexandria, Va.; David Large, 50, of Salem, Ore.; Brian Slott, 42, of Merrill, Wis.; Daniel Slott, 43, of Merrill, Wis.; and Henry Wright, 50, of Fenton, Mo. Each man has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation handled the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Cortney S. Escaravage of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte prosecuted the case along with Trial Attorney Lisa Marie Freitas of the Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section.
Nationwide initiative, Project Safe Childhood, established by the DOJ in 2006, assisted with the case. For more information on the effort, visit projectsafechildhood.gov.