A school lesson on Internet safety prompted a York Preparatory Academy student to tell her teacher about the lurid Facebook messages Benjamin Thrift sent her last year, a prosecutor said on Thursday.
Thrift, 21, on Thursday pleaded guilty in a York courtroom to two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor, criminal solicitation of a minor and attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor after authorities accused him in two sexual incidents.
He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and will be placed on the sex offender registry for the rest of his life.
In the case involving the York Prep student, Thrift offered to pay her for an hour of sex. Ten days later, he wound up in handcuffs, charged with criminal solicitation of a minor when he ran into police instead of the girl he planned to meet at a stop sign in McConnells.
His first set of charges came in June last year when police in York discovered that he had several conversations with a 14-year-old girl on Facebook and then later had sex with her twice, said Erin Joyner, the York County assistant solicitor who prosecuted Thrift. He was arrested, but left jail on a $24,000 bond.
Four months later, he befriended the 12-year-old York Prep student on Facebook and solicited her for sex, authorities said. After sitting in on a class about online predators, the girl reported the conversations to her teacher and administrators, who then called police.
Detectives saved screenshots of Thrifts conversations with the girl before assuming her identity and re-initiating conversation with him, Joyner said. Thrift, thinking he was speaking with the girl, solicited her for sex again, offering her money.
Police, pretending to be the girl, arranged a meeting with Thrift at a stop sign in McConnells. Instead of meeting the girl, he met authorities, who arrested and charged him.
In court on Thursday, Thrift acknowledged that he would have to spend time in prison, but asked Circuit Court Judge D. Craig Brown if he could serve five years behind bars, said Phil Smith, Thrifts York County public defender. The judge opted to sentence Thrift to 12 years, the recommended maximum sentence prosecutors and Thrifts lawyer agreed on during plea negotiations.
Thrift told the judge that he had taken special classes in school and took medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which was discontinued when he was still in elementary school because he suffered from nervous tics, Smith said.
School was somewhat difficult for him and because of that he tended to have friends much younger than him, Smith said. The computer had given him an ability to meet persons and bypass some social awkwardness.
Jonathan McFadden | 803-329-4082