May 19, 2019
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Ex-customs officer’s child porn was needle in ‘haystack’ of adult porn, lawyer says

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
The Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in Bangor.

The jury trial of a former U.S. customs officer who claims he inadvertently downloaded child pornography while searching for images of adults engaged in sexual activity began Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

Larry O’Neal, 45, of Houlton has pleaded not guilty to one count of possession of child pornography.

Defense attorney Hunter Tzovarras of Bangor told the jury in his opening statement that O’Neal had a “massive amount” of adult pornography on his home computer and hard drives. If jurors viewed each image for one second it would take 11½ days, working 24 hours a day, to see them all, Tzovarras said.

By comparison, investigators found 600 images of child pornography on O’Neal’s computer and hard drives that depicted teenage girls, not pre-pubescent children, he said.

“If you own the haystack, it doesn’t mean you know you have a needle in it,” Tzovarras said. “In downloading adult pornography, Larry got a few needles. These images were of teenagers, not toddlers.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Ruge described the prosecution’s case in his opening statement as “relatively simple.”

“He went looking for child pornography, he found it and he got it,” he said. “The evidence will show that he used search terms used to search for child pornography.”

Ruge said witnesses would testify about statements O’Neal allegedly made about his interest in pornography.

O’Neal’s former fiancee, who used to live with him, is expected to testify that she saw child pornography on his computer between 2010 and 2012, and confronted him about it. When confronted with these materials, he allegedly became angry. She reported this to authorities in 2012, but there was not enough evidence for authorities to charge him, according to court documents.

The jury of seven men and seven women, including two alternates, is expected to begin deliberating Thursday.

O’Neal has been free on $5,000 unsecured bail since Jan. 25, 2018, about a week after his arrest.

If convicted, O’Neal faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

 



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