A solider stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia, pleaded guilty to production of child pornography in a Project Safe Childhoods investigation involving a 13-year-old victim.
Aaron D. Sutherland, 28, of Fort Stewart, pleaded guilty to production of child pornography before U.S. District Judge Louis Sands on Jan. 13. Sutherland faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years to a maximum 30 years in prison to be followed by at least five years up to a lifetime of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. In addition, Sutherland will have to register as a sex offender for life upon his release from federal prison. There is no parole. Sentencing has been scheduled for April 28.
“Parents must remain vigilant and monitor whom their children are communicating with on their cell phones and on social media because online predators are lurking,” said U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary. “Our office—working alongside federal, state and local authorities—will pursue significant penalties for any adults who sexually entice, abuse or harm a minor.”
“Stopping predators that produce and distribute the disturbing images of children being exploited is of critical importance,” said Special Agent in Charge Katrina W. Berger, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in Georgia and Alabama. “Unfortunately, we cannot protect all children by ourselves and need your help to monitor who your children interact with and report anything that doesn’t seem right.”
“This case is another example of the fruitful results that occur when we combine the resources of local, state and federal law enforcement partners to get predators off the street,” said Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk.
According to court documents, Sutherland admitted he began communicating with a 13-year-old female while he was on active duty for the U.S. Army at Fort Stewart, Georgia in Feb. 2021. Sutherland enticed the victim to send multiple nude images and videos of a sexual nature and asked to meet the child to engage in sexual activity. The minor victim’s mother discovered her child messaging an adult male in April 2021 after she observed her child acting strangely and confiscated her phone. In the messages, Sutherland stated the victim’s age. The mother reported the crime to authorities, and Sutherland was arrested on May 3, 2021. Sutherland provided law enforcement with his secret image vault where he saved all of the pictures and videos of the child.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse, launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the DOJ’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children, as well as identify and rescue victims.
The case was investigated by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Katelyn Semales and Criminal Chief Michael Solis are prosecuting the case.