How investigators linked Richland County Boy Scout leader to videos of children undressing

How investigators linked Richland County Boy Scout leader to videos of children undressing
Thomas Close of Shelby. (Source: Koster, Brian)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Cleveland 19 is digging deeper as a Boy Scout leader sits in jail, accused of recording boys changing clothes.

How investigators linked Boy Scout leader to videos of children undressing

This allegedly went on for seven years.

Children and parents at Troop 406 in Richland County trusted 39-year-old Thomas Close as their scout leader.

He's known by scouts as Aqua Joe.

Thomas Close of Shelby.
Thomas Close of Shelby. (Source: Koster, Brian)

Cleveland 19 is learning more about how investigators connected explicit videos to Close.

A federal affidavit reveals Homeland Security Investigators identified the manufacturer of lockers seen in one of the videos and traced them to the Sandusky YMCA.

According to the affidavit, the director at the Boy Scouts of America Lake Erie Council in Cleveland recognized teepees and locker rooms in some of the videos from Firelands Scout Reservation in Huron County.

Investigators also found some of the videos were filmed in a home.

They connected those videos to Thomas Close, who has a pool at his house in Shelby.

Thomas Close's home in Shelby.
Thomas Close's home in Shelby. (Source: WOIO)

Close admitted to creating the videos with a spy watch camera and a video recorder, according to investigators.

They say he gathered five terabytes full of child pornography.

Close also taught engineering at Ashland County-West Holmes Career Center.

Interim Superintendent Rod Cheyney says they're "shocked and extremely disturbed” by the charges.

He says Close is on paid administrative leave. You can see the letter from the school to Close below.

The letter to Thomas Close from Ashland County-West Holmes Career Center.
The letter to Thomas Close from Ashland County-West Holmes Career Center. (Source: WOIO)

A phone call went out to parents on November 1 saying:

“Good evening parents. This is Rod Cheyney, Interim Superintendent of the Ashland County West Holmes Career Center. If you have not already been made aware by news media, I am contacting you to make you aware that one of our teachers, Mr. Thomas Close, was arrested today on charges of sexual exploitation of children as well as receiving and distributing child pornography. Please be advised that Mr. Close has been immediately suspended from the school and will have no further access to the building. As always, the safety and well-being of our students and staff remain our top priority. We will fully cooperate with law enforcement officials in this investigation.

Please do not hesitate to contact the Superintendent's office should you have further questions or concerns.”

Cheyney tells Cleveland19 Thomas Close taught around 70 juniors and seniors over the last five years.

Close has no criminal background.

39-year-old Thomas Close, a Boy Scouts leader in Shelby, is sitting in jail accused of recording boys changing their...

Posted by Sara Goldenberg Cleveland 19 News on Friday, November 9, 2018

But Boy Scouts leaders showed investigators an incident report a den leader made in June 2017 "that could be related" to this case.

The Boy Scouts said they spoke to Close about it, and they said if it happened again he could be fired.

Cleveland19 called the Lake Erie Council of the Boy Scouts and went to their Cleveland office in person to find out what happened.

But we have not heard back, after three days.

Scout Executive and CEO Marc Ryan put out two statements to parents last week:

November 1, 2018

A message from our Scout Executive.

As you may have heard, earlier today a Scouter was arrested. We were disturbed to learn of these allegations. Nothing is more important than the safety of our youth members. Upon learning of the investigation by Homeland Security, we removed this individual and prohibited him from any future participation in our programs.

We seek to prevent child abuse through comprehensive policies and procedures to serve as barriers to abuse. These include a thorough screening process for adult leaders and staff, criminal background checks, requiring two or more adult leaders be present with youth at all times during Scouting activities, and the prompt mandatory reporting of any allegation or suspicion of abuse.

Anyone with any information on potential abuse should contact authorities to ensure the safety of our youth, in and out of Scouting.

We will continue to cooperate with law enforcement as they investigate this matter.

As this matter is ongoing, please contact the authorities with any further questions. Or, for more information about the BSA’s youth protection policies, please visit bsayouthprotection.org.

Yours in service to youth and families,

Marc Ryan

Scout Executive/CEO

Lake Erie Council

---

Nov 2, 2018

Dear LEC Scouting Family,

Let me begin by apologizing for not being able to communicate sooner. It has always been my approach to be immediately responsive with the hope that you would hear both good and bad news directly from the council if possible. Unfortunately, a set of evolving circumstances prevented us from a mass distribution prior to yesterday evening.

By now, you are likely aware that yesterday a former adult member was arrested and charged in federal court with production of child pornography. We were disturbed to learn about and condemn these charges. Nothing is more important than the safety of our youth members and we take these charges very seriously. Upon learning of the investigation by Homeland Security, we removed this individual and prohibited him from any future participation in our programs.

In addition, you have likely seen mention of an incident that occurred in June of 2017. Let me assure you that this incident was both thoroughly reviewed at the time and the appropriate action was taken. While that incident was different in scope and kind to this case, in our determination and efforts to fulfill our commitment to protecting our youth and to fully cooperate with the authorities, we were able to provide information to Homeland Security that resulted in criminal charges.

The Boy Scouts of America seeks to prevent child abuse through comprehensive policies and procedures to serve as barriers to abuse. These include a thorough screening process for adult leaders and staff, criminal background checks, requiring two or more adult leaders be present with youth at all times during Scouting activities, and the prompt mandatory reporting of any allegation or suspicion of abuse.

Anyone with any information on potential abuse should contact authorities to ensure the safety of our youth, in and out of Scouting. For more information about the BSA’s youth protection policies, please visit bsayouthprotection.org.

We are committed to providing ongoing support to victims and their families, including counseling. We want to help victims heal, on their own terms, with a professional counselor of their choice. Through the ScoutsFirst Helpline, the Boy Scouts of America offers assistance with counseling to any youth member, former youth member, or the family of any youth member who suffered abuse during their time in Scouting. To reach the ScoutsFirst Helpline, call (844)- Scouts1 or 844-726-8871, or email scouts1st@scouting.org.

In addition, if you have specific questions about this case, please contact Homeland Security at 216-749-9602. As this matter is ongoing, they are the only ones who are able to provide answers to our questions. Know that we continue to cooperate with law enforcement as they investigate this matter.

Yours in service to youth and families,

Marc J. Ryan

Scout Executive / CEO

Lake Erie Council, Boy Scouts of America

For people who live in the small town of Shelby, they just can't believe this could happen.

“I think it's terrible, it really is shocking,” said Jodie, a Shelby resident.

“It makes me not trust very many people anymore. I would probably home school my grandchildren if I could. Because I don't like them out in the world the way it is,” she said.

Investigators say the videos were filmed from 2011 to 2018.

If you are a parent that may have been affected, you can call the Homeland Security tip line at 216-749-9602.

The U.S. Attorney’s office says they have 30 days to indict.

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