Officials Search for Violations of New Child Porn Laws

Times Staff Writer

When Ronald Steven Jones was arrested at his Placentia home in December, 1979, on child sex abuse charges, police uncovered a stash of two dozen rolls of sexually explicit home movies and several cartons of photographs, correspondence and magazines.

Jones was sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison after admitting he was guilty of sex perversion and child molestation charges in a plea bargain. As part of the bargain, a child pornography charge was dropped.

Local police say that if they learn about someone involved with child pornography, they usually use the information as a wedge to catch the suspect on more serious charges of actual sexual abuse.

“Child molest is the charge that’s going to send them to the state prison, not child pornography,” said Sgt. Ronald Jenkins of Huntington Beach.

Traditionally, it has been tough to make child pornography charges stick. However, tough new federal laws recently enacted are giving U.S. authorities the tools to mount aggressive campaigns against child pornography, and federal investigators are coming to Orange County to see just how much “kiddie porn” is here.


A 1977 law prohibited the commercial sale of child pornography, but it was the Child Protection Act of 1984 that put teeth in federal enforcement by forbidding even private trading of such material. A first-time offender faces 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

As part of a nationwide step-up in the enforcement against child pornographers, Postal Inspector Gary Jones in Santa Ana was recently assigned to probe possible violations in Orange County.

“We know that what we’ve learned before is not indicative of what’s out there,” said Assistant U.S. Atty. Joyce Karlin from her Los Angeles office. “The new postal inspector is there to determine if we need to come down there in force. My guess is that no community is completely free from child pornography.”

Results came fast. A raid on an El Toro home July 3 produced films, photographs and correspondence that Jones and other inspectors are reviewing to determine if federal charges should be brought. The correspondence has led to a list of other names of possible pedophiles in Orange County, Jones said.

Jones said “vigorous enforcement” of the newer federal laws has eliminated the large-scale commercial producers of child pornography. Karlin said the last known commercial producer of child pornography in the nation was Catherine Stubblefield Wilson, a Hancock Park mother of five who was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison for distributing pornographic material though the mail.

“What you have now,” Jones said, “is a network of pedophiles who correspond with each other very carefully and covertly. They get in touch with each other through ads in sex magazines and at covert meetings. They get together and trade photographs, home movies and even children.”

Inspectors in Forefront

The post office is usually at the forefront of such investigations, he said, because trades and sales usually are set up through the mail. But the postal inspectors work closely with the FBI and with U.S. Customs, which monitors pornography coming in primarily from the Netherlands and Denmark.

“Customs notified me recently of someone here who was receiving child pornography from Denmark,” said Newport Beach detective Trent Harris. “Customs confiscated the material, but we can’t make a case on him.”

The children involved in sex acts that are photographed and filmed often protect the adults, who usually are their parents or others who have befriended them and have provided emotional or financial support, Harris said.

Recently, he said, he managed to get information out of one girl he was questioning on a theft case and turned it over to Costa Mesa police, where the suspected pedophile lives.

“Child pornography exists in Orange County, and there’s a lot of it,” he said.

Still, the actual criminal cases involving child pornography are rare.

Huntington Harbour Arrests

The most recent example involved John and Christie Steen, who were arrested in March, 1981, in their affluent Huntington Harbour home and convicted a year later on charges involving illegal sexual relations with two girls, ages 9 and 13. Police seized more than 100 home movies and photographs of some of the sex acts that occurred in the home with adults and children. Four other adults also were arrested.

But prosecutors said they were convinced that the tapes and other material were for home use only and that the Steens, who are on probation after serving time in a state mental hospital as mentally disordered sex offenders, were not in the commercial child pornography business. There was no federal law at that time against private trading.

Postal Inspector Jones said that under the tougher federal laws, federal child pornography charges will not be dismissed just because state authorities have developed a case of child molestation.

“If local authorities file charges on pedophiles for molesting, we now would go ahead and file in federal court on child pornography charges as well,” he said.