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Cops & Courts

Boy Scouts affiliate is indicted on porn charges

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    Thomas Close

    PHOTO PROVIDED

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CLEVELAND — A former Boy Scouts of America affiliate who had worked with Scouts at the Firelands Scout Reservation in Wakeman was indicted on federal child pornography charges Thursday.

Thomas Close, 39, of Shelby in Richland County, was indicted on two counts of sexual exploitation of children, one count of receipt and distribution of visual depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct and one count of possession of child pornography.

At least one of the images Close had involved a minor younger than 12, according to the indictment.

He was charged in November after a Homeland Security investigation found he had taken videos of minor boys changing before or after swimming at the YMCA in Sandusky — which sometimes rented its pool to the Boy Scouts. In addition, at least one video seized from Close’s computer included two minor boys changing in a teepee at a campground, later identified as teepees at the Wakeman reservation, according to authorities. Others videos were allegedly taken in Close’s bathroom when he had children over to swim.

Investigators met with Boy Scouts of America Lake Erie Council, which covers seven counties from Sandusky to Conneaut. Because all of the photos appear to revolve around changing before or after swimming, Boy Scout officials alerted investigators to an incident report from June documenting an occurrence at the Firelands Scout Reservation they believed could be related.

The report was made by a den leader regarding a Boy Scouts of America staff member named Thomas Close, also known as “Aqua Joe,” according to the affidavit.

Close was associated with Boy Scout Troop 406 and has a pool in his backyard.

In a statement released after Close’s arrest, Boy Scouts of America Lake Erie Council CEO Marc Ryan said the council was cooperating with authorities and has policies and procedures in place to prevent this kind of abuse.

“We were disturbed to learn about and condemn these charges,” he said.

“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.”

Investigators went to Close’s home Nov. 1. Upon viewing his bathroom, they identified it as the same bathroom depicted in one of the videos.

Close admitted to making videos found on his computer between 2011 and summer 2018, according to the affidavit.

If convicted, Close faces 15 years in federal prison.

The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, with an arraignment scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Monday at the federal courthouse in Cleveland.

Contact Carissa Woytach at 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.
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