- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Gov. Matt Mead plans to encourage state lawmakers to put up money to continue paying for an agent position in the state’s Internet Crimes against Children Task Force despite a recent vote by a key legislative committee to recommend against the funding.

The Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee this month recommended against funding $183,000 over the coming two years for the agent position. The task force concentrates on investigating child pornography cases, but it also works on other sorts of crimes involving computers and the Internet.

Steve “Woody” Woodson is director of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, which includes the task force. He said Thursday that funding from the federal government for the agent’s position recently expired.

Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, serves on the Joint Appropriations Committee and moved to deny Mead’s request for funding for the agent position on the Internet crimes task force, as well as another $766,000 for five officer positions on the Department of Criminal Investigation’s Drug Enforcement Task Force.

Nicholas said Thursday the Internet crime task force position and the others were eliminated in 2009 during a round of state budget cuts. The state used money that became available from the federal America Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the federal stimulus, to fund the positions again, he said.

“My position is that if DCI believes that those are the least important jobs in their budget, that their budget should remain relatively the same,” Nicholas said. “It didn’t make sense to me to continue to fund them and basically add seven new employees to DCI.”

Nicholas said his opposition to the funding wasn’t a reflection on his view of the importance of the Internet crimes task force.

“My position is we’re not going to add seven new positions,” he said. “If you want to fill that position internally, that would be great.”

Mead, a former U.S. Attorney and federal prosecutor, said Thursday he will continue to support funding for the agent position on the Internet crimes task force during the legislative budget session that starts Feb. 10 in Cheyenne.

“The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force is critical to protecting the youth,” Mead said. “The work of these officers has grown more complex with the advent of social networks and mobile devices, and now is not the time to cut the program. I firmly believe we should fund this position.”

Woodson said the Internet crimes task force currently has four Division of Criminal Investigation agents and two federal agents assigned to it. He says the task force has been keeping the extra agent position vacant recently because of uncertainty about funding.

“I don’t know how you overstate the importance of child pornography in my opinion,” Woodson said. “It’s a horrendous offense in my opinion. It needs to be dealt with and dealt with constantly. We will of course continue to do our level best, but we would always welcome more assistance, and that’s basically what we were trying to get.”

In addition to investigating child pornography cases, Woodson said the Internet crimes task force participates in investigating online solicitation cases in which people attempt to lure children they meet on the Internet into sexual encounters. Many task force investigations result in prosecutions in federal court.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne sentenced David Michael Faust, 42, of Cheyenne to serve 10 years in prison on a conviction of attempted online solicitation of a minor. The Internet crimes task force investigated the case against Faust.

On Tuesday, a federal jury in Casper found Jonathan Earl Olaveson, 29, of Gillette guilty of attempted online enticement of a minor for sexual purposes. He faces sentencing before U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl of Casper in April. The Internet crimes task force assisted the FBI in investigating that case.

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