An ex-police officer from Florida has been sentenced to life in prison for hiring a mother in Texas to sexually abuse her 3-year-old daughter and send him pictures of the molestation, according to the New York Post.

Former officer Michael Eugene Williams, who worked for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, pleaded guilty to the offense in June 2017.

Ex-Police Officer Convicted On Child Pornography Charges

The sentencing comes after a nearly two-year investigation, sparked by a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a non-profit funded, in part, by the Department of Justice with the mission of eliminating child sexual exploitation.

Internet Criminal

The tip, the source of which has not been released, led officers from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to Williams’ home, where investigators believed the former police officer was using his personal computer to upload child pornography onto a Google Drive account. There, officials discovered more than 450 images and videos of child pornography on Williams’ cell phone, the New York Post writes.

Texts Reveal Exploitation Of 3-Year-Old Texas Girl

They also found Williams’ cell phone and tablet, which revealed, as Justice Department officials wrote in a press release to mark the man’s arrest, “that Williams had been communicating by text message with a woman in Texas who had a 3-year-old daughter.” Subsequent investigations found that the Texas mother had been producing pornographic images involving her daughter and selling them to Williams.

Text messages found on Williams’ cell phone showed the man describing sexual conduct he “wished to engage in” with the 3-year-old girl. Between January and July 2016, prosecutors say, Williams and the Texas mother exchanged nearly 340 text messages, most sexual in nature, about the woman’s daughter. The former police officer paid the girl’s mother through Western Union wire transfers, mainly using money from his Sheriff’s Office retirement pension.

Federal Officials Arrest Mother

Working in coordination with agents at US Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office successfully identified the woman and attained a search warrant for her home. The child was removed from his mother’s home by Texas law enforcement officials.

The mother eventually admitted to the crime, saying she had recently contacted Williams about a new delivery of child pornography. She pleaded guilty on two counts of production of child pornography and was sentenced to 60 years in prison by the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

“One Of The Most Heinous Crimes Imaginable”

Williams himself was arrested on October 21, 2016. He pleaded guilty to the commercial sex trafficking of a child in June 2017.

And now, Judge Marcia Morales Howard for the US District Court of Florida has sentenced Williams to life imprisonment. “This is one of the most heinous crimes imaginable,” says James C. Spero, a Special Agent for Homeland Security Investigations’ Tampa office. “Thanks to HSI special agents and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, this criminal will no longer be able to sexually abuse children.”

Alongside a life in prison, Williams has been ordered to pay $194,905.17 in financial restitution to the child, now 4-years-old, who he abused.

Project Safe Childhood

The conviction and sentencing of Michael Eugene Williams is another step in the Justice Department’s Project Safe Childhood, a national initiative established in 2006 to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation.

Focusing on internet-based crimes, the project combines federal funding and leadership from the Department of Justice with the efforts of a wide range of local and state organizations, both governmental and private sector.

Sexual Exploitation Of Children Is Becoming More Common

In 2010, a report completed by officials at Project Safe Childhood confirmed what many advocates in the space had feared: child sexual exploitation is on the rise.

After an exhaustive analysis, government officials discovered year-on-year increases, sometimes substantial increases, in the prevalence of child pornography, child sex trafficking, sex tourism with child victims and the online enticement of children by sexual predators.

Thankfully, the initiative launched in 2006 appears to be working. Just three years after Project Safe Childhood was begun, prosecutions of sexual predators who abuse children had grown by 40%.