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Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald , Published June 18 2012

Farm worker charged with child pornography

GRAND FORKS - A farm laborer appeared Monday in state district court in Grand Forks on a felony charge of possessing child pornography, including images of a victim younger than 2 being sexually assaulted.

James Francis Miller, 60, was arrested Sunday by police as he pulled up in the yard of Sproule Farms shop at 6700 N. Washington St. in Grand Forks, just back from a work trip to Florida, according to Carmell Mattison, the assistant state's attorney for Grand Forks County who handles child pornography cases.

Mattison told District Judge Karen Braaten that the initial search of Miller's apartment at 502 1/2 N. 20th St. found 29,000 images on one hard-drive storage device.

"And 90 percent of them were child pornography," Mattison said.

His electronic files were well-organized, including one for pre-teens and one labeled, "babies," she said.

One of the children shown in 18 images was between 1 and 2 years old, she said.

Egregious case

A tip came from the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which regularly searches databases from national law enforcement and child protection groups. Such data show the "DNA-like" Internet addresses that indicated a person in Grand Forks had accessed some of the child pornography that typically circles the globe via the Internet, Mattison said.

Investigators can track child pornographers online because of the unique, identifying "Internet protocol," or IP, address each computer is assigned when it accesses the Internet, leaving a record of the access, she said.

Moving quickly in this case, local police and BCI agents determined it came from Miller's residence and they were waiting for him at his work site Sunday.

The investigation is just started, Mattison told Judge Braaten in arguing for a $50,000 bond for Miller.

"I anticipate numerous other charges to be charged out as soon as later this week," she said. "This is a very egregious case."

Flight risk

Miller, originally from the state of Michigan, told Braaten he has no family ties to this region. He does general labor and is a lab tech at the large farm company known for raising potatoes.

The search of his apartment turned up several guns, books on survival and a passport, all reasons to be concerned he might be a flight risk, Mattison said.

But Braaten set Miller’s bail at $20,000 cash or surety, citing the fact that he faces only one Class C felony charge at this point. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Miller said he lived on Minnesota’s Iron Range before taking the job in Grand Forks about four years ago.

He said he’s got only about $450 in his checking account, a car worth about $1,000, no savings or real property and isn’t certain if he still has a job.

But based on his estimate that last year he earned $16,000 to $18,000 in his seasonal farm job, plus received about $3,000 in unemployment payments during the slow times, he didn’t qualify for a court-appointed attorney, Braaten told him.

She also ordered him to stay off the Internet, per Mattison’s request.

Miller asked if he could obtain his list of contacts from his cell phone, especially two phone numbers from the 503 area code, which is in Oregon. Braaten told him he would have to request such favors from the prosecutor, who said Miller’s phone still was part of the evidence seized and being investigated.

Braaten set his preliminary hearing for Aug. 8.

Mattison said the public would be surprised at the number of people viewing and possessing child pornography in the community. Every regular check by BCI agents of such activity turns up several, or even dozens, of such offenders in Grand Forks, she said.