A Florida man who sexually exploited two Escondido middle school students after striking up a friendship with the teens through online gaming was sentenced Wednesday to 27 years in federal prison.
Tony McLeod, 38, of Tampa, was arrested in June 2013 and convicted last June of sexual exploitation of a child, travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct and other counts.
McLeod struck up a friendship with the 14- and 15-year-old victims online. The friendships spilled over into phone calls, texts and video chats between the defendants and the minors in which they discussed their personal lives and McLeod learned they were in middle school, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Charlotte Kaiser.
Around May of 2013, McLeod’s relationships with the victims turned sexual, which involved the exchange of explicit photographs and videos, trial evidence showed.
After one of the minor’s family members discovered the relationship, McLeod traveled from his home in Tampa to Los Angeles, picked up the youth from his middle school in Escondido, and transported the teen — under an alias — on a flight from California to Florida, authorities said.
“I lost my childhood and lost my innocence,” the 14-year-old who traveled on the plane with McLeod told U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino at Wednesday’s sentencing hearing.
The other victim, who turned 15 at the time of the sexual exploitation, told the judge that McLeod’s actions and the aftermath “almost completely destroyed my family.”
Sammartino described McLeod’s conduct as “horrendous” and ordered that he be on supervised release for life.
“McLeod was a master manipulator who ingrained himself in these kids’ lives despite being thousands of miles away,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “He then exploited them for his own illicit sexual desire.”
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