- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

MOUNT VERNON, Ill. (AP) — Soon after a 13-year-old runaway told police she had posed for pornography in a ramshackle apartment, police knocked on its rickety door. What they found inside stopped them cold.

Computers and CDs in the apartment held an enormous collection of child pornography. That led them to a child-porn ring they say involved a staff member of a boarding school for the learning disabled, a middle-school basketball coach and at least four others.

Six men have been charged so far and police say more arrests are likely.

The suspects invited troubled teenagers to parties, enticed them into sex and filmed it, said Mount Vernon Police Chief Chris Mendenall. In most cases, the teens appeared to be on drugs, he said.

The adults then sold the films on the Internet, Chief Mendenall said.

“It was disgusting. They manufactured this not only for their own gratification, but to profit from it,” he said. “It’s the largest [collection of child porn] I’ve seen produced in our own community.”

It’s not yet clear how many minors were involved, but authorities don’t believe any attended the schools where two of the suspects worked. The youngest victim is believed to be around 13, Chief Mendenall said.

The groups met at the Mount Vernon apartment of restaurant worker Anthony Banks, 41, or 40 miles away at the rundown home of David Cameron, the technology director at Brehm Preparatory School for the learning disabled in Carbondale, the police chief said.

The teens were pictured having sex with Mr. Banks, Mr. Cameron and other men, who often peeled money from their pockets at the conclusion, Chief Mendenall said.

Authorities are still sifting through evidence, including seven computers seized from Mr. Cameron’s home, around the corner from an elementary school.

“I think we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg,” said Williamson County State’s Attorney Charles Garnati. He declined to elaborate.

The arrests, which began Jan. 15, sent a rumble through the triangle of Mount Vernon, Marion and Carbondale in rural southern Illinois.

Police say they don’t believe Mr. Cameron, 35, a slight man with round, frameless glasses, involved his students, and no pornography was found at the school. He had passed a background check because he had no criminal record, school officials said.

Another suspect, Jerrod Griffith, 21, coached fifth- through eighth-grade basketball at Woodlawn School near Mount Vernon.

Mr. Cameron and Mr. Banks face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of aggravated criminal sexual assault and child pornography. They were being held on $1.5 million bond each. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

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