YORK — Stored in nine folders on a green flash drive, nearly 200 photos of underage children engaged in sexual acts were found by police on a Clover man’s computer last year, prosecutors say.
Now, Hugh Douglas Butler, 54, will spend the next six months in prison before he’s released, placed on probation and his name added to the state’s sex offender registry.
On Sept. 20, Butler pleaded guilty to six counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, a felony carrying a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
In August 2012, the state Attorney General’s Office charged Butler with 16 counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor after his email address turned up in an investigation in North Carolina, said Bethany Miles, assistant attorney general.
Authorities with the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation last summer received a referral from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and began investigating a North Carolina man, Miles said.
The center employs a tracking team that helps law enforcement find and identify online sexual predators.
During the investigation, officials obtained 150 of the man’s email contacts, Miles said. Butler was one of them. After learning that he lived in Clover, North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation contacted the York County Sheriff’s Office.
Though police could find no evidence that Butler broke any laws, he admitted to deputies that he had child porn on his computer when they spoke with him, Miles said.
“All of them were not just adults with children,” she said.
Deputies seized his flash drive and, according to arrest warrants, found at least 190 images of children performing sexual acts.
Prosecutors found no evidence that Butler ever had any sexual relations with children, Miles said.
Butler was sentenced the same day as Timothy Ruzbacki, the former York Preparatory Academy board member who pleaded guilty Sept. 20 to seven counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.
In 2012, the North Carolina’s SBI received a tip from California authorities that an individual had been speaking with a minor online, Miles said. Based on those conversations, there was concern that the adult might have committed sexual offenses against children.
SBI traced the account to York County and contacted the sheriff’s office. Investigators confiscated Ruzbacki’s computers and found the pornographic images, she said.
Authorities learned that he did not have any sexual relations with children, but during the investigation Ruzbacki admitted that he had child porn on his computer, she said.
Efforts to arrest those who download and share child pornography online are ongoing, forcing state investigators to adapt to technology that predators use, said Chip Payne, commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children task force with the state Attorney General’s Office.
Payne said there is a direct link between people who download and share child porn, and the people who eventually act on it, he said.
“These folks, they're driven,” he said. Because the Internet allows anonymity, “it empowers them to really get going.”
If you start viewing it, the next stage is to act on it. We want to get them before they get to that place, ideally,” Payne said.
“Unfortunately, we've found out with” several suspects, “they’ve already acted on their urges multiple times.”
Jonathan McFadden • 803-329-4082