CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A former Richland County Boy Scout leader pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual exploitation of children and one count of receiving and distributing child pornography in federal court Tuesday morning.
A fourth charge of possessing child pornography was dismissed.
Thomas Close, known as “Aqua Joe” to scouts and parents, was accused of secretly recording boys changing after swimming.
He was the Boy Scout leader of Troop 406 in Shelby.
Federal agents arrested 39-year-old Thomas Close last November. Read more on how investigators linked Close to the videos here.
Close was indicted in January on four federal charges, and originally pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Investigators found videos of children changing clothes before and after swimming and connected them to Close.
According to the affidavit, Close admitted to creating some of the videos at his house, where he had a pool.
Investigators say he had five terabytes of child porn on his computers.
They searched for more possible victims for months.
In July, Homeland Security Investigations issued a public appeal for anyone who thought their child was recorded by him between 2011 and 2018.
19 News spoke to Carol Skutnik, assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio who worked on the case.
“I have been prosecuting cases in this genre for a long time and I can honestly say this was probably the biggest amount of material,” she said.
“Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of images of child pornography. And those are images that may or may not be identified, being traded around the world,” Skutnik said.
The victims range in age from seven years old to teenagers.
Skutnik says the toughest cases she has worked are when the perpetrator was someone parents knew and trusted.
“It’s a betrayal. I know a big sense of Boy Scouts is a sense of brotherhood, and that’s hard for these young men to appreciate that someone who you think is there to help you and guide you and mentor you and turns out to also want to exploit you,” she said.
Homeland Security Investigations, the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the Shelby Police Department investigated this case.
Close is scheduled to be sentenced by a federal judge on January 15.
He will have to register as a sex offender and be monitored by U.S. Probation when he gets out of prison.