Former Ohio Boy Scout leader sentenced for recording boys, child porn

Published:

CLEVELAND (AP) — A former Ohio Boy Scout leader known as “Aqua Joe” for his role as a swim instructor was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in federal prison for secretly recording videos of young boys changing their clothes before and after swimming and showering at various pools and his home, authorities said.

Prosecutors said Thomas Close, 39, of Shelby in north-central Ohio’s Richland County, recorded boys from 2011 until 2018 and shared the videos online.

Close pleaded guilty in September to two counts of sexual exploitation of children, and one count of receiving and distributing depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

Advertisement - Story continues below

A message seeking comment was left Wednesday with Close’s federal public defender.

The investigation that led to Close began in 2018 after the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was able to identify lockers seen in previous child pornography investigations to a specific manufacturer that said only a few YMCAs had purchased such lockers, including one in Sandusky, Ohio.

Authorities then tried to identify boys who had been recorded by tracing landmarks and Boy Scout logos seen in the videos before speaking with Boy Scout and YMCA officials. Investigators learned from those interviews about an incident report regarding Close’s frequent and unnecessary contact with boys during swim time, prosecutors said.

Using that information and a tip, investigators interviewed Close, who said he secretly recorded boys by a leaving a spy watch with video capabilities in changing areas, prosecutors said. He also told investigators he accessed child pornography from TOR, software that allows people to access the internet anonymously.

More than 140 victims have been identified, prosecutors said. The youngest is 7 years old.

“While no amount of prison time is sufficient for the depraved abuse of trust by Mr. Close on his innocent victims, hopefully today’s sentencing can begin the healing process for all those impacted,” Vance Callender, special agent-in-charge for the Department of Homeland Security in Ohio and Michigan, said in a statement.

One of Close’s victims recorded a statement that was played in court Wednesday, saying in part: “How dare you do this to a kid that can’t defend himself. I don’t understand. I’m supposed to be able to trust the people I’m told to trust. You took advantage of me and you spied on me. Now I don’t trust anyone.”