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Former ABC News journalist gets 6-year sentence in child pornography case

By Salvador Rizzo Washington Post

A former national security journalist who worked for ABC News until his apartment was searched last year in a child pornography investigation was sentenced Friday to six years in prison.

James Gordon Meek pleaded guilty in July to possessing explicit images and videos of minors, and sharing them with two other users on a smartphone messaging app called Kik in 2020. The FBI seized several devices during a search of Meek’s apartment in Arlington County, Virginia, last year, and Meek admitted they contained “dozens of images and at least eight videos depicting children engaged in sexually explicit conduct,” according to court filings.

At his sentencing Friday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Meek asked his victims and his family for forgiveness and said he should have used his reporting skills to help victims of online sexual abuse instead of contributing to their exploitation.

“I was a journalist. I wrote countless stories about the misconduct of others,” he told Judge Claude M. Hilton. “I broke federal law, I violated God’s law, and I undermined my own personal ethos of always helping others. … I need you to hold me accountable.”

The investigation into Meek, an Emmy-winning producer who covered wars, terrorism and major crimes, began with a tip from the file storage company Dropbox about digital materials on an account he had registered, according to court records.

Authorities alleged that Meek also communicated online with minors, persuading at least one girl to send photographs showing nudity, although his guilty plea was based strictly on possessing and sharing child sexual abuse materials. Defense attorney Eugene Gorokhov noted throughout the case that Meek was not accused of physically meeting or abusing minors.

Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia requested a prison sentence of 12 1/2 to nearly 16 years, arguing that Meek shared “images and videos of prepubescent children, including infants, being forcibly raped and exploited for the sexual pleasure of adults on the internet.”

One of Meek’s victims described what it felt like to be repeatedly victimized: “The first time was being abused and the second time is the ongoing anxiety due to the images of my abuse forever accessible,” according to a statement quoted by prosecutors.

“Not only were they traumatized by the initial sexual abuse that was captured on film, but they are also further victimized through the ongoing distribution and consumption of depictions of their abuse,” federal prosecutors Zoe Bedell and Whitney Kramer wrote in a court filing.

Gorokhov, who asked the judge to impose a prison sentence of five years, said Meek began to struggle with his mental health as he covered the horrors of war and terrorism, ultimately developing “this disease, this illness, this curse” as a coping mechanism.

“There’s going to be a breaking point,” Gorokhov said, noting that Meek also had files on his electronic devices showing “torture, executions, beheadings, human-rights atrocities” because of the kind of reporting he practiced.

Prosecutor McKenzie Hightower countered that Meek at one point tried to deflect the blame onto his young victims and that the acclaimed journalist, who won an Emmy as an ABC producer covering the 2017 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, “lived a double-life.”

“He made a choice each time over multiple years to keep exploiting minors,” Hightower said.

Before joining ABC, Meek worked for the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, “where he advised top congressional leaders and held a top-secret clearance,” according to his attorney.

“The sentence in this case represents a rejection of the picture of Mr. Meek that the government tried to present,” Gorokhov said after the hearing. “We are grateful to the court for taking a careful look at the facts, accurately assessing those facts, and recognizing that Mr. Meek’s worst moments do not define him. “

Meek said he did not know any of the young people depicted in the evidence against him but that he had read accounts from two of the female victims.

“I should have helped you find accountability,” he said.