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Federal judge irked by long delay in getting child porn case into court

Thomas Gillespie appeared in Buffalo federal court for the first time Tuesday.

The judge handling his case wants to know why it took so long for prosecutors to get him there.

Gillespie is charged with coercing a 10-year-old Cheektowaga girl into sending him videos of herself naked, and investigators say the victim told them as much as far back as last August.

“I find this mind-blowing,” said U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy. “If he’s such a danger, why didn’t someone do something?”

Gillespie, a Pennsylvania resident, last month was charged with the sexual exploitation of children, a felony, and arrested last week, nearly 11 months after the Cheektowaga girl first met with police.

McCarthy noted that Gillespie also met with the FBI in November and, according to investigators, admitted sending videos of himself naked to girls who may have been as young as 14 or 15.

Given his admissions and the girl’s disclosures, McCarthy wants to know why Gillespie remained free.

“I think that’s totally inexcusable,” he said of the lapse in time. “Was he hiding out? Why wasn’t he arrested sooner?”

The judge’s criticism, and the angry tone in which he delivered it, is a reflection, at least in part, of the disturbing allegations against Gillespie.

The government, in court papers, details graphic online conversations that allegedly took place between Gillespie and the underage girl, as well as the contents of six videos found in one of his online accounts.

U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. would not comment on McCarthy’s criticism, but Scott S. Allen Jr., the prosecutor in the case, attributed the delay to forensic test results that did not become available until April.

“Those were essential to corroborating the victim’s statements,” Allen said.

Without that kind of corroborating evidence from the victim, Allen said, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Buffalo would not have had jurisdiction over Gillespie’s case. It’s not clear whether federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania could have intervened sooner.

“I understand the judge’s concern,” Allen said. “That’s also our concern – to get these guys off the street.”

McCarthy did not elaborate on why the lapse in time is a concern but Allen, when questioned by The Buffalo News, said that there is no indication whether anyone else was victimized while Gillespie was still free.

McCarthy ordered Gillespie held without bail and referred to the unusual allegations against him. Unlike most defendants in child pornography cases, Gillespie is charged with recruiting a victim and producing child porn – not simply possessing it.

“In his own words, he was grooming them,” Allen told McCarthy.

At the core of the prosecution is the allegation that Gillespie, who lives in East Brady, Pa., messaged the Cheektowaga girl, introduced himself as a 16-year-old boy and asked her to send him videos of herself naked.

The girl told investigators that she sent a single video in the hopes that Gillespie would stop bothering her, according to court papers. Investigators say she agreed to send more when he threatened to post her initial video on the Internet for all her friends to see.

McCarthy described the allegations as serious enough to warrant Gillespie’s continued detention, but returned over and over again to what he and Gillespie’s defense lawyer called a troubling timeline.

“The case is already a year old,” said Frank R. Passafiume, an assistant federal public defender.

Passafiume referred to the victim’s statements in August and Gillespie’s alleged admissions in November and wondered aloud how the government could argue, after waiting months to charge him, that Gillespie is now a danger to the community.

McCarthy agreed that there are holes in the government’s arguments but nevertheless ordered Gillespie detained.

“For the life of me, I can’t understand what was or wasn’t done,” the judge told Allen. “The timeline is very troubling here.”

If convicted, Gillespie could face up to 50 years in prison.

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com