'You ruined part of my life': Former Boy Scout leader gets 30 years in child porn case

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SHELBY, Ohio (WJW)-- A former Boy Scout leader was sentenced to three decades in prison for recording young boys while they changed for swim lessons.

Thomas Close, 39, of Shelby, pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation of children and receiving and distributing child pornography. He will be designated as a sex offender for the rest of his life. He was also ordered to pay $949 in restitution.

From 2011 to 2018, Close, known as "Aqua Joe," recorded his victims and transferred the images from a simply spy watch to his home computer, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The victims were in his care at the YMCA, the Willard Conservation League, the Firelands Scout Reservation, the Ashland County-West Holmes Career Center, the Mohican Wilderness Camp, the STEM camp and his own home.

"I have a question for you, Aqua Joe: Why? Why would you do this to me? Why would you do this to any kid? How dare you do this to a kid that can’t defend himself. I don’t understand. I’m supposed to be able to trust the people that I’m told I can trust. You took advantage of me and you spied on me. Now I don’t trust anyone. You ruined part of my life," a victim said in a recorded statement. "I especially hate you for hurting my mother. You broke her heart – and mine."

Investigators tracked the source of the videos by identifying the manufacturer of the lockers seen in the images. The Cyber Crimes Center was able to determine they were likely recorded at the YMCA in Sandusky. Then, by working with Boy Scout and YMCA officials, authorities narrowed their investigation to Close.

According to the Department of Justice, Close admitted using a Russian photo sharing site to access child porn and using a watch to record boys as they undressed.

A search of his devices revealed more than 110,000 images and videos of minors involved in sexually-explicit conduct. Investigators said 143 victims have been identified so far. The youngest were 7 years old.

“This individual used his position and regular access to children to exploit the young people who he was entrusted to take care of and protect,” said Vance Callender, HSI special agent in charge for Michigan and Ohio. “While no amount of prison time is sufficient for the depraved abuse of trust by Mr. Close on his innocent victims, hopefully, today’s sentencing can begin the healing process for all of those impacted.”

Continuing coverage of this story here

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