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Boy Scout official arrested, charged with child pornography after allegedly recording children changing

RICHLAND COUNTY, Ohio -- A Boy Scout official has been arrested and charged with production of child pornography after allegedly recording children while they were changing.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, 39-year-old Thomas Close is associated with Troop 406.

The Cyber Crimes center reportedly alerted Homeland Security agents of videos taken of underage boys changing before or after swimming at the YMCA in Sandusky, who sometimes rents their pool to the Boy Scouts.

Officials say that after review, they learned several videos had been recorded at the YMCA, as well as in teepees at the Firelands Scout Reservation and inside the bathroom of a home that appears to have a swimming pool.

Cleveland Boy Scouts of America officials reportedly alerted investigators of an incident report from June regarding a similar occurrence at the Firelands Scout Reservation that they believed to be related.  That report was made by a den leader regarding Close, who is also known as "Aqua Joe."

Investigators reportedly went to Close's home Thursday and, upon viewing his bathroom, determined that it was the same bathroom shown in one of the videos.  They also said he has a pool in his backyard.

Close reportedly admitted to making the videos and said, according to authorities, that he created them between 2011 and the summer of 2018.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said Close had five terabytes of child pornography on his computer, which he reportedly admitted to downloading.

Steve Francis, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations for Michigan and Ohio said, "This individual is accused of violating his position of trust with the Boy Scouts and as a teacher to exploit and take advantage of young people under his supervision. The exploitation of children is reprehensible, and HSI has highly skilled and dedicated special agents to investigate child exploitation crimes to ensure that we identify and arrest perpetrators while protecting our most vulnerable population, our children."

Close has reportedly been arrested and charged with sexual exploitation of children and receiving and distributing child pornography.

According to U.S. Attorney General Justin Herdman, authorities were able to identify Close as a suspect because of "good investigative work, but also because a parent who was trained to look for signs of suspicious activity raised their concerns to Scout leadership."

“We all have an obligation to be aware of what is taking place around us and let authorities know when there are concerns," Herdman added.

Marc Ryan, the Scout Executive of the Lake Erie Council of Boy Scouts of America declined to speak on-camera with FOX 8 and instead posted a letter to the community on the organization’s website.  It reads,

"Dear LEC Scouting Family,

Let me begin by apologizing for not being able to communicate sooner. It has always been my approach to be immediately responsive with the hope that you would hear both good and bad news directly from the council if possible. Unfortunately, a set of evolving circumstances prevented us from a mass distribution prior to yesterday evening.

By now, you are likely aware that yesterday a former adult member was arrested and charged in federal court with production of child pornography. We were disturbed to learn about and condemn these charges. Nothing is more important than the safety of our youth members and we take these charges very seriously. Upon learning of the investigation by Homeland Security, we removed this individual and prohibited him from any future participation in our programs.
In addition, you have likely seen mention of an incident that occurred in June of 2017. Let me assure you that this incident was both thoroughly reviewed at the time and the appropriate action was taken. While that incident was different in scope and kind to this case, in our determination and efforts to fulfill our commitment to protecting our youth and to fully cooperate with the authorities, we were able to provide information to Homeland Security that resulted in criminal charges.

The Boy Scouts of America seeks to prevent child abuse through comprehensive policies and procedures to serve as barriers to abuse. These include a thorough screening process for adult leaders and staff, criminal background checks, requiring two or more adult leaders be present with youth at all times during Scouting activities, and the prompt mandatory reporting of any allegation or suspicion of abuse.

Anyone with any information on potential abuse should contact authorities to ensure the safety of our youth, in and out of Scouting. For more information about the BSA’s youth protection policies, please visit bsayouthprotection.org.

We are committed to providing ongoing support to victims and their families, including counseling. We want to help victims heal, on their own terms, with a professional counselor of their choice. Through the ScoutsFirst Helpline, the Boy Scouts of America offers assistance with counseling to any youth member, former youth member, or the family of any youth member who suffered abuse during their time in Scouting. To reach the ScoutsFirst Helpline, call (844)- Scouts1 or 844-726-8871, or email scouts1st@scouting.org.

In addition, if you have specific questions about this case, please contact Homeland Security at 216-749-9602. As this matter is ongoing, they are the only ones who are able to provide answers to our questions. Know that we continue to cooperate with law enforcement as they investigate this matter.

Yours in service to youth and families,
Marc J. Ryan"

The interim superintendent at Ashland County West Holmes Career Center confirmed Friday that Close is a teacher there.

Rod Cheyney told FOX 8 that Close teaches engineering to juniors and seniors and has been on the staff for six years.

The school made a call to all parents Thursday night upon learning of the arrest. Cheyney released a statement regarding the situation to FOX 8. It reads,

"Obviously, we are shocked and extremely disturbed and disappointed to learn of Mr. Close’s arrest and the significant charges he is facing.

As soon as we learned of his arrest, we have taken action to immediately suspend Mr. Close’s employment with the Career Center. He will have no further access to the building or interaction with students and staff.

In the meantime, we will fully cooperate with law enforcement officials in the ongoing investigation."

Authorities say this is an ongoing investigation.

Anyone with information regarding Close's "unsupervised contact with children" is asked to contact HSI at (216) 749-9602.