AP NEWS

Kingwood man sentenced after museum’s plant expert led feds to child predator

September 13, 2018

Federal cybercrime agents don’t often call on botanical experts at the Smithsonian Museum to help track down a predator, but horticultural sleuthing was a key part of the legwork that ended this week with a Kingwood man being sent to prison for 35 years.

Stephen P. Lynch, 43, pleaded guilty to charges in June and on Wednesday a judge sentenced him to more than three decades in federal custody for exploiting a child and possessing dozens of pornographic images of a girl over time, from the ages of 3 to 5. The girl had been found in at least 222 collections of child pornography.

U.S. District Judge Nancy F. Atlas also ordered Lynch to serve five years of supervised release and register as a sex offender.

The victim’s mother and a sibling spoke at the sentencing hearing about how Lynch’s actions “scarred their family for life,” “changed how they viewed the world,” and “stole their sense of security,” according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A defense lawyer for Lynch could not be reached for immediate comment.

RELATED: Montgomery County man gets below-range prison term for pornographic chat with child overseas

The unusual investigation began with a tip from National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who notified Homeland Security investigators of nearly 100 lewd images of a prepubescent minor, many with her genitalia “lasciviously displayed,” according to court documents. Federal agents shared the images with a horticulture expert at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, who conducted meticulous review of plants visible in the background of the photos. The expert narrowed the search to 10 states with similar plant life. And Homeland Security analysts zeroed in the Kingwood area based on other items depicted in the photographs. Agents began searching parks, dance studios, gyms and other facilities, before locating Lynch and the child victim. He was arrested in Georgetown.

RELATED: Ex-Harris County deputy sentenced for “horrific” child pornography

During a search of his home, Lynch attempted to destroy thumb drives by placing them in a microwave oven. They discovered violent pornographic images of children on several electronic devices in his home, including some children who had been identified by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The images of the child Lynch had exploited also turned up on the dark web and in 222 child pornography investigations, according to court documents.

The girl told law enforcement that Lynch said if she pulled her underwear down for the photographs, Lynch would reward her with chocolate. She said she complied because she wanted the chocolate.

Gabrielle Banks covers federal court for the Houston Chronicle. Follow her on Twitter and send her tips at gabrielle.banks@chron.com.

AP RADIO
Update hourly