A former high school counselor pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to one count of attempted production of child pornography, which could land him in prison for as long as 30 years.
Jonathan Williams, 41, of Malvern was arrested Jan. 14, 2020, at the Hot Spring County sheriff's office by FBI agents running an online sting operation. He pleaded guilty to the charge contained in a federal indictment Wednesday afternoon before U.S. District Judge Brian Miller.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristin Bryant, on July 24, 2019, an FBI undercover agent posted an online advertisement titled "Looking for like-minded family fun-no limits," that was answered that same day by a user on the social network and online dating app "Grindr," with the username "Horny," that was traced back to Williams.
"Horny contacted the undercover and indicated he was responding to the online advertisement," Bryant said. "The undercover later informed the user, Horny, that the undercover's alleged son was nine-years-old and the undercover sent a stock photo of the purported nine-year-old child laying in his bed with his underwear on."
Bryant said the conversation later moved to the mobile messaging app, Kik, and quickly grew sexually explicit in nature, with Williams, under the username JDCappsXXX, requesting various sex acts involving the child.
"JDCapps and Horny were identified as Mr. Williams, who was living in Donaldson, Ark.," Bryant said. "Mr. Williams was identified on Aug. 14, 2019 ... and provided details about the recent conversation he had with the undercover."
Bryant said Williams, under questioning by the FBI, admitted asking the undercover agent to pull the boy's underwear down to expose his bottom and to masturbate in front of the child via the Kik messenger app, and said that he admitted to receiving one image of child pornography from an unknown Grindr user that he later deleted.
"Mr. Williams admitted to downloading the Tor browser and using it to watch videos of men having sex with minor children," Bryant continued. "Mr. Williams stated that he did not like what he saw but admitted to watching multiple videos at length."
"Did you listen to the statement given by the U.S. attorney?" Miller asked Williams.
"Yes sir," Williams responded.
"Was her statement accurate?" Miller asked.
"I'm not proud of it, but yes, sir," Williams said.
"How do you plead to count one of the indictment of Jan. 9, 2020?" Miller asked the defendant.
"Guilty," Williams replied.
"Did you, in fact, commit the offense as charged in that indictment?" Miller asked.
"Yes, sir," Williams said, his voice lowered.
Bryant told Miller that no written plea agreement existed between Williams and the government but that the government would agree to a sentence of 15 years, which is the mandatory minimum prison term for the offense, in exchange for Williams' plea, which was confirmed by Williams' attorney, Tyler C.M. Tapp III of Hot Springs.
"There is an agreement with the government," Tapp said. "But there's no written agreement."
"So the extent of the agreement you have pending is that you will not object to a recommendation at the low end of the statutory range?" Miller asked Bryant.
"Yes, to 15 years," Bryant replied.
"Your Honor, it's actually beneath," Tapp began, "that's, the statutory range is beneath the guideline range."
"I understand," Miller said. "So, if the guideline range is higher than the statutory range the government's not going to object to me giving him the mandatory minimum, is what the agreement is?"
"Yes, sir," Tapp confirmed.
Miller explained to Williams that because the federal prison system has no provision for parole, a 15-year sentence handed down from the bench requires a minimum of 85% of the sentence to be served before "good-time" eligibility can be calculated for good behavior.
Tapp asked Miller if he could have the pre-sentence investigation and subsequent sentencing hearing expedited in order to get Williams out of the Miller County jail, where he is incarcerated prior to sentencing. Tapp said Williams is currently housed in isolation at the Miller County jail for his own protection.
"I think things will be better for everyone once he's actually finally sentenced," Tapp said.