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News / Clark County News

Florida man gets 20 years in prison in sex abuse case involving Vancouver 14-year-old

42-year-old pleaded guilty in District Court in January; he was arrested in 2020 outside the victim’s home

By Alexis Weisend, Columbian staff reporter
Published: April 15, 2024, 3:44pm

A 42-year-old Florida man was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for producing images of child sexual abuse and traveling across the country by bus to sexually abuse a 14-year-old Vancouver girl.

In January, Samuel Aaron Leonard of New Port Ritchey, Fla., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to charges of production of child pornography and interstate travel with intent to engage in a sexual act with a minor, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“This case is a parent’s nightmare: a predator lurking online who preys on their child remotely and then travels thousands of miles to further harm a minor child,” U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman said in a news release. “The investigation revealed that the victim in this case was not the first harmed by Mr. Leonard. This sentence is designed to protect the community from further crimes.”

Leonard was arrested July 2, 2020, outside the girl’s Vancouver home. He spent months grooming her online over several social media platforms, posing as a 20-year-old. He convinced the victim to send sexually explicit photos and sent her a cellphone so they could communicate, according to a news release.

The girl did not know Leonard had installed tracking and surveillance software on the phone so that he could monitor her location and read her texts and email, according to the news release.

The girl’s guardians became aware of the communication and contacted police.

The Vancouver Police Department’s Digital Evidence Cybercrime Unit was asked to help with the investigation as the primary Department of Justice Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force affiliate in Southwest Washington.

After meeting with the victim and her guardians, cybercrime detectives and Kalama police officers assumed the girl’s identity online to expose Leonard via an undercover sting, the news release states.

Just before Leonard was arrested outside the girl’s home, he was seen hiding a plastic bag filled with a cellphone, gum, a chocolate bar and a love letter detailing his obsession with the girl, police said.

Police said they found thousands of depictions of child sexual exploitation imagery and a map app he used to find the girl’s house on Leonard’s three phones.

In his hotel room, police found what they described as a “kidnapper’s kit,” with handcuffs, duct tape, rubber gloves, a blindfold, lubricant and a sex toy, several large knives, a hatchet, and a .45-caliber handgun and ammunition, police said.

U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle ordered 20 years of supervised release to follow prison. Leonard will be required to register as a sex offender.