Six men, including two from Boone County, have been arrested as a result of a covert investigation into child pornography by the Boone County Sheriff’s Department. The suspects include a former youth ministry volunteer, a commercial airline pilot, a career military man and a business owner.
“It seems from this investigation that some of the people who are the greatest danger are not the people we tend to recognize,” Detective Andy Anderson said.
During the investigation, a Boone County detective posed in Internet chat rooms as young girls between the ages of 12 and 14.
Deputies arrested Columbia resident Lawrence Pirtle, 36, on Nov. 22 after Pirtle on two separate occasions sent live video images of himself masturbating to the masquerading detective, according to a probable cause statement on file at the Boone County Courthouse.
Pirtle, who has been charged with two counts of attempted promotion of obscenity in the first degree, denies the allegations.
“It’s all pretty much bogus,” Pirtle said. “I don’t have any recollection of what they’re talking about.”
Pirtle is free on $500 bond and is scheduled for a court trial on Jan. 12. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison. Pirtle previously pleaded guilty to third-degree assault in April 2000 and to disturbing the peace in August 2000. In June of that year, a judge returned a default judgment against him for adult abuse stalking.
Another Boone County resident, 45-year-old James Clark of Harrisburg, was arrested Dec. 10 on suspicion of attempted promotion of obscenity. He was also released on bond and will return to court Dec. 22. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Richard Hicks said he expects the state will file formal charges against Clark.
The sheriff’s department said numerous adults engaged in explicit sexual conversations with the detective. According to a media release sent by Anderson, the investigation targeted those suspects who lived in Missouri and were within a reasonable driving distance of Boone County.
Three other men arrested during the investigation face charges of attempted enticement of a child and second-degree attempted statutory rape. Arthur Pinneo, a 31-year-old from St. Ann, was arrested Oct. 8. Jefferson City resident Shaun Lueckenhoff, 25, was arrested Oct. 15, and 37-year-old Gregory Scott of Warrensburg was arrested Nov. 13.
Last week, William Pace, 33, of California, Mo., was arrested on suspicion of similar charges. He was released on bond and is scheduled to return to court on Dec. 20.
“One of the things that is really alarming in this investigation is the danger our children are in,” Anderson said. “Right here, in Boone County, Missouri — a safe place to live — our kids are in danger from people trying to do harm to them.”
Anderson provided several suggestions for protecting children from Internet predators.
“Number one is to have the computer located in a common place in the house, where parents can watch what their kids are doing,” he said.
Anderson also said parents should have rules about what their children can do on the Internet and suggested not letting them have their own passwords. He also recommended that parents remind their children that people on the Internet are strangers.
“A lot of kids don’t realize that ‘someone you know’ does not mean someone who gives you their name on the Internet,” Anderson said.
Missourian reporter Tom Long contributed to this report.