jury convicts youth group leader of attempted coercion and incitement of minor | USAO-NDOK

A federal jury on Wednesday convicted a leader of a religious youth group of having a sexualized relationship with a minor, U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson said.

Thomas Daniel Johnson, 48, of Sand Springs, was found guilty of attempted coercion and incitement of a minor. U.S. District Judge Karen E. Schreier presided over the trial.

“Thomas Johnson was known to be a mentor for teenagers. He hid behind this reputation when he repeatedly sent a vulnerable child sexually explicit texts and requests for nude photos,” US Attorney Clint Johnson said. “I want to commend the victim in this case who showed courage and strength during his testimony at trial this week. I am also proud of the work of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeff Gallant and Valeria Luster who fought for justice. be returned to that child.

Thomas Johnson knew the victim’s family and volunteered as a youth worker at a church attended by both families. Johnson was known as a mentor for teens and teens, so the victim’s family asked him to sponsor their child.

On August 15, 2020, the victim’s mother discovered numerous sexually explicit texts, memes and images sent to her child by Johnson and confronted the accused. Then both parents contacted law enforcement and handed over their child’s phone to authorities. Further examination of the phone revealed thousands of messages exchanged between Johnson and the victim, dating back to March 2019.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Johnson engaged in a sexualized relationship using text messaging when the minor was 11, 12 and 13 years old, thereby committing the crime of attempted coercion and incitement of a minor.

The United States argued that Johnson treated the victim, first gaining the victim’s trust and friendship. Johnson regularly encouraged the victim and called her a stud, a sexy beast, and made sexual references and jokes.

Then the sexualized relationship increasingly involved the exchange of memes and comments referencing oral sex, penises, ejaculation and more. Johnson eventually told the victim about several sexual experiences he (Johnson) had been involved in. The victim testified that at first he thought the exchange of texts and memes were jokes, but became increasingly uncomfortable as the accused began to regularly comment on the the victim’s penis and physical appearance, while implying that he was sexually attracted to the victim.

Johnson repeatedly asked the minor to send photos of his penis or “naked”. The accused further suggested in messages that he could give the victim oral sex or vice versa. A few days before the communications were discovered, Johnson sent the victim a selfie of himself with a banana in his mouth simulating oral sex and during the text exchange, asked the victim if he “could handle it», Implicitly proposing to perform oral sex on the minor victim.

The victim testified that he believed Johnson would have complied with his (Johnson’s) requests if the victim had complied.

The defense argued that, taken in context and given Johnson’s reputation for making sexual innuendo among family, friends, and other teens and teens he mentored, the posts were merely misguided humor and did not represent grooming behavior. The defense further argued that Johnson was mentoring the child and trying to connect with the child using common terminology, references and memes used among adolescent males today.

Federal prosecutors argued that Johnson’s behavior was consistent with psychological tactics exhibited by child predators known as grooming behaviors. In court documents, prosecutors cited United States vs. Chambers who stated, “The ultimate goal of grooming is the formation of an emotional bond with the child and a reduction in the child’s inhibitions in order to prepare him for sexual activity.”

In closing, prosecutors reminded the jury that the defendant’s actions were not a joke and that presenting the texts as jokes was no defense. They reminded the jury that the defendant had told the victim to delete his text messages, which indicated that Johnson understood the communications to be questionable and criminal. They said that instead of being just misguided and harmless jokes, Johnson’s communications were intended to sexualize a 12-year-old and desensitize him to inappropriate sexual communications and material. They said the only thing that stopped the inappropriate behavior was the intervention of the child’s parents and law enforcement.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Gallant noted that Johnson wrapped himself in “a cloak of authority” and took advantage of the victim’s trust. He said mentors set age-appropriate boundaries with children. Instead, Johnson, a man in his 40s, repeatedly crossed those boundaries by sending out a “sink of memes and messages” that degraded and sexualized a vulnerable boy. He asked the jury to hold Johnson accountable with one word: Guilty.

The Sand Springs Police Department conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey A. Gallant and Valeria G. Luster are prosecuting the case.

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