Police & Fire

Jury finds ex-customs officer from Houlton guilty of having child porn on computer

A former U.S. customs officer intentionally downloaded child pornography to his computer, a jury found Friday after deliberating for nearly three hours in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

Larry O’Neal, 45, of Houlton claimed that he regularly downloaded adult pornography and did not search for nor want images or videos of children engaged in sexual activity.

His trial began Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Jon Levy.

Levy ordered O’Neal to be held without bail pending sentencing after the jury of seven men and five women announced the verdict.

O’Neal had been free on $5,000 unsecured bail since Jan. 25, 2018, about a week after his arrest.

A sentencing date has not been set.

Neal’s computer and several external hard drives were seized Jan. 19, 2018, according to court documents. Investigators found more than a million images of adult pornography and about 600 images of child pornography on his devices, according to trial testimony.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Ruge, who prosecuted the case, said in his closing argument that O’Neal used search words to find images of teenage girls engaging in sex with adults. The prosecutor said he used the words “tiniest teen,” “teen shy” and “underage” to find and download it.

“You need not be distracted by all of the other pornography on his computer,” Ruge told jurors. “It doesn’t matter how much less it was. Having 1 million other images of pornography is not a defense to having one image of child pornography.”

The prosecutor also said that because of O’Neal’s job with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, he knew what child pornography looked like.

“He knew the laws about child pornography because his job was to keep child pornography out of the country,” Ruge said.

Defense attorney Hunter Tzovarras, who said in his opening statement, “Just because you own the haystack doesn’t mean you know there’s a needle in it,” returned to that theme in his closing argument.

“Just because the government can go through that haystack and found a few needles, does that mean that Larry knew they were there?” he asked.

Tzovarras told the jury that despite investigators’ testimony that O’Neal searched for child pornography, the evidence showed that he was a collector of adult pornography, not images of children.

O’Neal faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

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