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Shawn Vestal: Moses Lake man’s abuse of toddler shows how monstrous thrive in internet age

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 31, 2020

It’s not the kind of language you often see in court documents – even in prosecutor’s strongest sentencing arguments for the worst convicts.

However, in the case of Mikhail Yuriy Ageyev, U.S. Attorney Bill Hyslop found the perfect word to deploy when asking a judge to send him to prison for 50 years: monster.

“Ageyev,” Hyslop wrote in a January filing in federal court, “is a monster who is now, and will always be, a clear and present danger to children.”

Ageyev has more than earned the epithet. The 34-year-old Ukranian citizen and former Moses Lake resident made child pornography, including still photos and videos of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter, and swapped it with his fellow monsters. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced this week by federal District Court Judge Frem Nielsen to the very half-century in prison Hyslop asked for.

It’s a case that makes you wonder about little more than the depths of human evil. What makes it more than just a tour of depravity, though, is the degree to which it illustrates a broader issue – the way the monstrous thrive in our technological age, using the internet, social media, smartphones and other online tools to make their filth, find their filth and share their filth with each other.

It’s also a positive example of the ways law enforcement agencies, from the U.S. Department of Justice to the Moses Lake Police Department, are coordinating efforts nationally and internationally to catch them.

The case originated with tips about Ageyev’s online behavior more than two years ago, including uploading child porn to the internet. According to tips from Twitter and Microsoft, Ageyev had created email, Twitter and Skype accounts under the user name “daddysmiles31.” His Twitter account bio openly expressed interest in incest and child porn, according to court documents.

The tips flowed to a private, nonprofit national database, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, that is a clearinghouse for tips about crimes against children. It’s common for tips involving child porn to be sent to the NCMEC, which then forwards them to the right local police agency. In this case, the tips arrived at the Moses Lake Police Department in October 2017.

In short order, police in Moses Lake searched Ageyev’s home – seizing the mobile phone from his hands as he sat on his porch when they arrived to serve a warrant. Ageyev confessed he had child porn on his mobile phone, and that he’d exchanged links, photos and videos of child porn with others online using tools such as Twitter, Dropbox and Kik Messenger.

On his Samsung Galaxy 8 phone, investigators found nearly 776 photos and 142 videos of child pornography. Most appalling, Ageyev told police he’d used his mobile phone to take sexually explicit photos and videos of his girlfriend’s daughter, then 2.

When police searched the phone of his girlfriend, Katrina Michelle Maradee Adams, they found she was involved in taking sexually explicit images and videos of her daughter, that they’d been shared through her iCloud account and that she’d had a discussion with Ageyev in which he discussed “future plans to sexually abuse and impregnate the child,” court records say.

A grand jury indicted Ageyev and Adams on several different charges, including conspiracy to produce child pornography, along with production, distribution, receipt and possession of child pornography. Adams pleaded guilty to two charges in January and agreed to testify against Ageyev – but Ageyev pleaded guilty on Oct. 21 to charges of conspiracy, production and possession of child pornography.

“It is difficult to imagine a more heinous situation or more egregious situation,” Hyslop said. “Just as terrible, or more egregious, every time a sexually explicit image is downloaded and viewed, the child who is shown is victimized again.”

Predators have found friendly technologies online, built into the very same tools the rest of us use to talk, text, take selfies and post tweets. It’s a problem that has sometimes thwarted law enforcement, in part because of the borderless geography of the internet.

The Ageyev case was a part of Project Safe Childhood, a Department of Justice initiative that coordinates efforts among cops at all levels of government, in addition to providing training and other resources, to fight child sexual exploitation and abuse. The project was started in 2006 and has led to an increase in prosecutions for child-pornography-related crimes; the DOJ’s latest statistics on the unit shows indictments increased by 31% between 2010 and 2014.

The project also coordinated agencies internally and led to investigations and indictments worldwide. At the end of the cases, which may involve police agencies all over the country and the world, the prosecutions are typically handled by U.S. attorney’s offices like Hyslop’s.

The court records in the case are almost impossible to read. They detail activities and conversations about producing sexual material involving a toddler, who has a pacifier in her mouth in many of the explicit images. It goes on and on for pages.

Fifty years feels too short for such crimes. Reading the case against Ageyev, one yearns for something worse to be inflicted upon him, something from Dante’s feverish vision of hell – whipped for eternity by horned demons or dunked forever in a ditch filled with excrement.

The legal system has limits, alas.

But Hyslop has it right: Ageyev’s monstrous.