A grand jury has indicted a Star Valley man on 19 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor after he reportedly spent months sending explicit photos and messages to what he thought was a teenager.
Fred H. Horton, who has served on the Star Valley Streets and Roads and Planning and Zoning committees, as well as the Hellsgate Fire Board, was an active supporter of the town and its development.
But Horton, 71, held a terrible secret, said his wife, Louise “Lou” Horton.
Horton was allegedly sending sexually explicit messages in images both online and through texts to a person he thought was a teenager named Becky. He even arranged to meet her several times, although he never showed up, according to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office.
Lou said she suspected something was amiss with her husband when he hid his computer screen and cell phone from her, but she stuffed her doubts away, not wanting to jeopardize her waning health.
But in late June, U.S. marshals showed up on the couple’s doorstep to arrest her husband of 40 years.
He now sits in a Yavapai County jail on a $200,000 bond.
Lou said she would not bail him out. She refuses to take his calls.
Starting in early July of 2012, Horton reportedly initiated contact through a social networking site with a person he believed was a teenaged girl, according to the Yavapai sheriff’s investigators. The woman was actually a YCSO detective.
The office has arrested numerous men on similar charges after posing as minors in chat rooms. In the past month, the office arrested at least two other men for luring a minor for sexual exploitation. In those cases, however, the men actually showed up in Cottonwood to meet the girl, only to find deputies waiting for them.
Horton reportedly sent numerous messages with unsolicited descriptions of sexual acts he wanted to perform with the teen. The text messages continued sporadically over the weeks, said Dwight D’Evelyn, media and crime prevention coordinator with the YCSO.
At the end of July, Horton sent a picture of his face to the girl. He claimed to have had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old female. Later, Horton sent a photo of his genitalia and suggested meeting in a hotel room for sex, D’Evelyn said.
Horton arranged a meeting with the girl in Cottonwood. Detectives said that Horton admitted driving to the location on Aug. 8, 2012, but said he did not stay for the meeting.
Text conversations continued through August 2012, including more photos of his genitalia and descriptions of sex acts.
In September, Horton arranged another meeting with the girl, but again did not show up, D’Evelyn said.
The messages, however, continued.
Lou said she spotted explicit messages on Fred’s phone once and found it odd he turned the computer screen when she approached.
Lou, who has multiple sclerosis, said she didn’t have the energy or speed to catch her husband red-handed.
“I can’t run around the house with the walker so I let it go,” she said.
Besides, Horton had always treated her well and taken care of her.
Since her husband’s arrest on June 24, Lou says she doesn’t need or want him anymore.
On May 22, a Grand Jury indicted Horton on 15 counts of luring a minor, three counts of aggravated luring and one count of commercial sexual exploitation of a minor.
A case management conference is scheduled for Oct. 7 at 9 a.m. in a Yavapai County Superior courtroom.
“These arrests should serve as a warning to parents that monitoring your children’s online activity is very important,” D’Evelyn said in an e-mail. “Chat rooms are especially concerning as they are the place where predators develop relationships and seek personal contact.
He suggested parents review this Internet safety presentation sponsored by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children http://www.netsmartz.org/Presentations/Parents.
“Encourage children to report any suspicious online contacts and remind them predators use aliases and photos to appear as someone else,” he said. “This type of ruse is used to gain trust and obtain personal information in hopes of establishing a relationship beyond the online contact.”