CLEVELAND, Ohio (WKBN Staff and The Associated Press) – A former Boy Scout leader from Richland County pleaded guilty to federal child porn charges.
According to prosecutors, Thomas Close, 39, of Shelby, Ohio, made recordings of boys changing clothes at a pool and inside teepees at an Ohio scout reservation.
Close faces up to 33 years in prison at his sentencing in January.
Investigators said videos revealed they were recorded at the YMCA facility in Sandusky, which sometimes rented its pool to the Boy Scouts, inside teepees used at the Firelands Scout Reservation in Wakeman, as well as inside the bathroom of a home that appeared to have a swimming pool.
According to court documents, Close acknowledged filming boys between 2011 and 2018. He also admitted to downloading child pornography and said he had approximately five terabytes of child pornography on his computer, according to the affidavit.
Due to the fact that all of the photos appear to revolve around changing before or after swimming, Boy Scout officials alerted investigators to an incident report from June 2017 documenting an occurrence at the Firelands Scout Reservation they felt could be related.
The report was made by a den leader regarding a Boy Scouts of America staff member named Thomas Close, also known as “Aqua Joe,” according to the affidavit.
The Boy Scouts of America’s Lake Erie Council in northern Ohio has said it cooperated with investigators and banned Close from future participation with the group.
“Mr. Close’s admission today will hopefully begin the healing process for all of those who have been impacted by his heinous crimes,” said Vance Callender, HSI special agent in charge for Michigan and Ohio. “I commend the community who supported this sensitive investigation and the pursuit of justice throughout this difficult period. Among its many types of investigations, HSI looks to bring swift justice to perpetrators of child exploitation through a victim-centered approach.”