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Florida man pleads guilty to child sex abuse charges in connection with messages to 14-year-old Vancouver girl

By Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter
Published: January 30, 2024, 3:46pm
Updated: April 15, 2024, 3:22pm

A Florida man pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal child sex abuse charges after he was arrested outside the Vancouver home of a 14-year-old girl with whom he’d been exchanging sexual messages.

Samuel Aaron Leonard, 42, of New Port Ritchey, Fla., entered guilty pleas 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. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 15, and attorneys have agreed to recommend a sentence of 20 years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Leonard contacted the Vancouver teen over social media in April 2020, and over several months, they continued to message on various social media platforms. Leonard also sent the girl a cellphone so they could continue messaging. The girl did not know Leonard had installed tracking software on the phone and was able to read her texts and emails, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office news release.

He also sent her sexual messages and convinced her to send him sexually explicit photos, the news release states.

The girl’s guardians learned of the messages and contacted police in June 2020. Officers seized the girl’s two phones, and an undercover officer began communicating with Leonard. Investigators also learned Leonard had traveled from Florida to Vancouver by bus and was not far from the girl’s house, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

The undercover officer posing as the girl told Leonard the phone he gave her had been taken away, and Leonard said he’d get her a new one. Investigators surveilled Leonard as he purchased a new phone and tossed the package over the fence of the girl’s backyard. Police arrested him a short time later, according to the news release.

When investigators searched Leonard’s hotel room, they found numerous items that could be used to restrain someone, such as handcuffs and duct tape, along with sexual items, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

In the plea agreement, Leonard also admitted that in 2018 he traveled to Oklahoma to sexually assault a 16-year-old. Investigators found video on Leonard’s phone of that assault, the news release states.

Leonard will also be required to register as a sex offender, and prosecutors said they intend to recommend he be placed on lifetime supervised release when he leaves prison.