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Child predator gets 30-year sentence

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

A 57-year-old Missouri man was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison, Wednesday, 11 months after he was arrested in Morrow, where he was trying to meet and have sex with a 10-year-old girl.

Joseph Michael Mooney, an information technology manager from Farmington, Mo., communicated with Clayton County Police Detective Joanne Southerland, online, for more than a year, believing she was the mother of a 10-year-old girl and was going to arrange for him to have sex with the child.

Beginning in December 2005, Mooney chatted with Southerland over the Internet and spoke to her over the telephone.

According to federal prosecutors, Mooney "described in explicit detail the sexual conduct he planned for the child," and he intended to have sex with the mother and the child. He e-mailed the "mother" sexually explicit pictures, and asked her to show the pictures to the little girl. In January 2007, Mooney was arrested at a Morrow restaurant where his date was the undercover officer.

A father of three grown children, Mooney reportedly told his family he was going to Atlanta on business. When arrested, he admitted to police that he had spoken to the mother, but claimed he wasn't going to have sex with the girl, and was trying to trap the mother, rescue the child, and report the child abuse.

Mooney was convicted by a jury in federal court in July, on a count of using the Internet to attempt to entice a minor to engage in sex, and one count of crossing a state line with the intent of having sex with a child under the age of 12.

"Our message to pedophiles is simple," said United States Attorney David E. Nahmias. "We will investigate, prosecute, and convict you, and under federal law, you are likely to spend the rest of your life in prison."

During sentencing, United States District Judge Thomas W. Thrash, Jr., said Mooney's testimony is unbelievable and the evidence against him is overwhelming. Thrash sentenced Mooney, under new mandatory minimum sentence law, to serve 30 years in federal prison.

Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner, praising Detective Southerland for her hard work, said the sentence was satisfying, and said he hopes the length of the sentence will deter other people who have considered preying on children.

The Internet child predator sting was set up under Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide, federally-funded initiative launched in 2006 by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. It is a cooperative effort of local, state and federal officers to catch, and prosecute, child predators.

Officials estimate there are as many as 50,000 child predators trolling the Internet. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one in seven children receive a sexual solicitation or approach online. Four percent receive an online solicitation, and are asked to meet or call a stranger for sex. Thirty-four percent have had an unwanted exposure to sexual material.

"I want to urge parents to be more aware of the sites that children are visiting and who they are chatting with online," the Clayton police chief said. "The Internet Crimes Against Children unit is, unfortunately, a necessary unit. The reality of the fact, is that we do have people who prey on children on the Internet."

At a Safe Childhood Project summit in August, Nahmias said "there isn't a crime on earth that gets people more revved up." In the Northern District of Georgia "this is as high a priority as we have," he said. "For a lot of kids, unfortunately, they're more safe standing in front of their house than they are sitting in front of their computer."