Federal authorities have accused an Iredell County woman of taking nude photos of her 4-year-old son then sending them to her boyfriend to sexually excite him.
The 24-year-old woman was charged Thursday with producing and distributing child pornography, according to court documents.
In late May, child-protection workers seized the child and placed him in protective foster care.
The Observer is not naming the woman to protect the identity of her son.
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It was unclear Thursday night whether she has been arrested. But an affidavit written by James C. Burns, a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security in Charlotte, pours light on the case and the shadowy world of online child pornography.
Before charging the woman, authorities followed a virtual trail for six months that began in Texas, took them to Tennessee and finally led them to the tiny Iredell County community of Olin.
In January, according to Burns, Homeland Security operatives in Midland, Texas, became aware of a man uploading pornographic images of children. He is identified in the affidavit as John Ledsinger of Midland.
Eventually, investigators found an exchange of messages that included several nude or partially nude images of a little boy, Burns says.
They traced the email address to Chattanooga, Tenn., and the woman’s boyfriend, Larry Vance, the affidavit says.
Agents found emails in which Vance bragged that he had access to a young girl and boy “ostensibly for sexual exploitation,” Burns said.
In another email, Vance shared photos of a boy, whom he said was his girlfriend’s son, sitting in a bathtub, according to the affidavit. He also claimed to have participated in “sexual encounters with the child and his mother,” Burns wrote.
On May 16, federal agents raided Vance’s home. According to Burns’ affidavit, the man identified the boy as the son of his ex-girlfriend, whom he said had moved back in with her parents in Olin in late 2013.
Authorities later learned the bathtub photos, including a close-up of the boy’s genitals, had been taken the day after Christmas, the affidavit says.
Federal investigators visited Olin and the home of the woman’s parents a week later.
That night, the boy was taken into protective custody. According to the affidavit, the woman confirmed that the nude boy in the photos was her son.
She told authorities that she had taken the photos with her mother’s cellphone before texting them to Vance. She said she sent them for his “sexual gratification,” the affidavit says.
An arrest warrant was issued for the mother on Thursday but her whereabouts Friday morning remain unknown.
Records do not indicate if Vance has been taken into custody. Ledsinger, however, was arrested on child-pornography in April and remains jailed without bond.