Former Methodist Minister from Royse City Pleads Guilty to Sharing Child Porn on the Internet

By Martha Deller
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
March 19, 2009

A former Methodist minister pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges that he traded sexually explicit, sometimes violent, images of children with other users of an Internet service, federal officials announced.

Steve Richardson, former pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Royse City, was arrested in September after federal agents seized a desktop computer from his office.

He admitted to possessing an external hard drive that contained more than 600 images of child pornography, according to acting U.S. Attorney James T. Jacks of the Northern District of Texas.

Richardson's arrest stemmed from an undercover investigation by a federal agent who communicated with the then-pastor over Google Hello, an Internet service that enables users to connect to each others' computers specifically to share individual photos or folders containing thousands of photos.

Using his Internet identity, "cowboysspades," Richardson sent a pornographic image and requested images of child pornography from the agent. When the agent gave an excuse for being unable to send the images, Richardson terminated the chat.

In a brief hearing Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Irma C. Ramirez, the 36-year-old former pastor pleaded guilty to one count of transporting and shipping child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography.

At a June 15 sentencing hearing, Richardson faces a maximum prison term of 20 years on the transporting charge, 10 years on the possession charge and a $250,000 fine on each charge.

He will be required to register as a sex offender and could be ordered to serve up to a lifetime of supervised release.

Richardson was suspended from his clergy duties immediately after his Sept. 24 arrest, according to Bishop W. Earle Bledsoe of the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Bledsoe said Richardson surrendered his credentials after the Board of Ordained Ministry placed him on involuntary leave effective Dec. 1.

He is no longer a United Methodist minister.

Bledsoe said children must be protected from economic, physical, emotional and sexual exploitation and abuse, according to the social principals of the denomination. Anyone who violates those principles will be dealt with "firmly and decisively" through the church disciplinary process, he said.

“We do not tolerate the victimization of children in any form,” Bledsoe said in a statement.



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