South Texas man sentenced to life in prison for child exploitation following HSI investigation

McALLEN, Texas – A South Texas man has been sentenced to life in prison for producing child pornography and coercing and inciting a minor, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE ) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Rio Grande Valley Child Exploitation Task Force.

Reid Etheridge, 42, was sentenced July 22 to life in prison. A second defendant, Alicia Cronkhite, 30, from Edinburgh, was sentenced to 189 months in federal prison, followed immediately by supervised release for life. During the hearing, the court heard additional facts about the abuse suffered by the two underage victims at the hands of Etheridge and Cronkhite. In handing down the sentence, the judge considered and weighed heavily the chances that Etheridge would re-offend in the future if released from federal prison. The judge also considered that Etheridge manipulated Cronkhite into participating in their criminal conduct.

“This lengthy sentence speaks to the repugnant nature of child exploitation crimes, especially the production of child pornography which only perpetuates the trauma suffered by victims,” ​​said Alejandro Amaro, Acting Special Agent in Charge of HSI. San Antonio. “HSI officers make it a top priority to protect vulnerable children from victimization by working with law enforcement partners to investigate predators involved in the production, distribution and possession of sexual abuse of children and ensuring they are held accountable for their heinous acts.”

According to court documents, Etheridge had filmed himself committing the sexual abuse and assault of two minor children from or around January 1, 2020 to around October 1, 2020. As part of his guilty plea, Cronkhite admitted to taking photographs of an underage victim’s exposed genitals and provided those photographs to Etheridge at his request.

The investigation began when authorities identified an IP address to McAllen who had uploaded images and videos depicting underage children engaging in sexual acts. On October 2, 2020, law enforcement executed a search warrant and met with Etheridge at the residence. He quickly admitted that he filmed himself sexually assaulting an underage victim. Further investigation revealed a communication between Etheridge and Cronkhite detailing the sexual exploitation of another underage victim. HSI searched his residence, at which time it admitted to producing multiple images of an underage victim and forwarding the images to Etheridge.

Etheridge and Cronkhite will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined shortly.

Assistant United States Attorney Michael Mitchell of the Southern District of Texas prosecuted the case.

HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and suspicious activity through its toll-free whistleblower line at 1-866-347-2423, or by completing its online whistleblower form. Both are manned 24 hours a day by investigators. From outside the United States and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199; hearing impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196.

HSI takes a victim-centered approach to child exploitation investigations by working to identify, rescue and stabilize victims. HSI works in partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC), and other federal, state, and local agencies to help solve cases and rescue sexually exploited children. Suspected cases of child sexual exploitation or missing children can be reported to NCMEC’s ​​toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.

HSI is a founding member of Virtual Global Task Forcean international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.

One of HSI’s top priorities is to protect the public from crime victimization, and HSI’s child exploitation investigations program is a central part of this set of missions. Additionally, HSI is recognized as a global leader in this investigative discipline and is committed to using its broad powers, international footprint, and strong governmental and non-governmental partnerships to identify and rescue child victims, identify and apprehend offenders, prevent transnational sex with children. abuse and help make the Internet a safer place for children.

HSI is a branch of ICE and the primary investigative arm of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, particularly criminal organizations that exploit global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 10,400 employees consists of more than 6,800 special agents assigned to 225 cities across the United States and 86 overseas locations in 55 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative police presence overseas and one of the largest international law enforcement footprints in the United States.

Kimberly B. Nguyen