The state of Texas has many dubious distinctions. It leads the nation as being the “worst” or near the bottom of the “worst” in many categories, like being the worst in nursing home care. But one of the state’s more dubious distinctions is that it leads the nation in the number of cases involving inappropriate teacher-student relationships. The number of these relationships have increased by 27 percent in just the last three years—a total of 179 investigations.
Terry Abbott of Drive West Communications, and former press secretary to the Houston Independent School District, attributes the explosion of inappropriate teacher-student relationships to social media and text messaging. He said these personal communication vehicles provide an “open gateway” for discreet personal, romantic and sexual contacts between educators and students.
In 2014 alone, there were 281 cases of school employees engaged in some sort of personal relationships with students—36 percent of whom were either accused of or convicted for the relationship—that used social media to initiate and perpetuate the relationships.
Dallas Principal Placed Sex Ads for Minors
But not all educators target students. Some, like the former principal at the Dallas-area Viridian Elementary, Oscar Figueroa, choose to step outside the education arena to locate children to sexually abuse. Figueroa, for example, placed more than 100 sex ads for minors before he was arrested.
The 47-year-old Figueroa was arrested in an AMC theatre in Frisco while waiting for who he thought was a 16-year-old boy and who had responded to Figueroa’s Craigslist ad seeking a young man for an oral sex encounter.
Figueroa was tried and convicted in federal court this past April for attempting to coerce or entice a minor. His punishment was harsh: a fine of $12,500 and a sentence of 10 years in prison. Figueroa is currently attempting to appeal that sentence.
When police initially interrogated Figueroa, he was asked how many times a year he posted ads for sex. Figueroa responded, “not even twice.” But police were able to pull over 100 Craigslist ads written by Figueroa between January and July 2015 alone. They were shown to jurors in court, and released in court records online in early August. The ads specifically looked for “legal teens” and “young white boys.”
Federal Court and the Evidence against You
Most of Figueroa’s ads were placed around his home and work in the Dallas area, but one ad in particular was placed while Figueroa was vacationing with his family in Canada.
He wrote, “Im visiting from USA for this womens soccer crap. I dont know whats worse, having been here 4 days and not been able to hook up or actually travelling here for the world cup.”
Once Figueroa crossed state and national lines, his crimes became a federal issue.
We’ve mentioned in previous blog posts that when your case is taken to a federal court, you run the risk of enhanced evidence being presented against you.
The case of Oscar Figueroa instructs that not only will criminal investigation evidence be used against you in court, but it will also be placed in court records available to the public for viewing and copying.
In Figueroa’s case, multiple news sites in Texas went through and published pieces of his ads for anyone to read.
The embarrassment exceeds the moment because this kind of public disclosure can, and most likely will, hurt a person’s ability to live like a regular member of the community after they have served their time.
Speaking of that prison sentence, 10 years seems like a long time, right? Wrong. As it turns out, he received the minimum federal prison sentence for that particular type of crime.
There are No “Minor” Federal Sex Crimes Penalties
In 2006, a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years was put in place for anyone convicted of “coercion or attempted coercion, using mail or any facility of interstate commerce, of a minor for illegal sexual activity.”
In fact, many federal sex crimes have mandatory minimum sentences of 5, 10, or even 30 years in prison, including:
- Production/possession/receipt/transport of obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children – 5 years in prison
- Interstate receipt, transportation, reproduction, solicitation or advertising of, selling, or possessing with intent to sell child pornography – 5 years in prison
- Attempt or conspiracy to transport a minor across state lines for the purpose of prostitution or another sexual activity which can be charged as a criminal offense – 10 years in prison
- Engaging in a sexual act with a child under the age of 12, or engaging in a sexual act by force with a child between the ages of 12-16 – 30 years in prison
Keep in mind that the above mandatory minimums apply for anyone convicted of their first federal sex offense. Second offenses carry even harsher sentences.
For example, being convicted in federal court on one count of possession of child pornography does not have a mandatory minimum prison sentence for a first offense. A second offense, however, has a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
And if you are convicted of a second federal sex offense against a minor, federal law states that you must be sentenced to life in prison.
You might know that federal sentencing has a “three-strikes” law—a mandatory life sentence for anyone convicted of three serious prior violent felonies to life prison.
But it takes only “two-strikes” of federal sex offenses against a minor to result in a mandatory life sentence. In short, sentencing for sex crimes in federal court is serious and unforgiving.
If you are charged with a federal sex crime, you may face decades in prison. If you are charged with a second federal sex crime, you may face life in prison.
Don’t try to fight your charges alone. The federal government has vast resources and countless experts to call upon. To protect your future, you need a skilled federal sex crimes attorney who knows how to fight the agencies and evidence that may be presented against you.