A Huntersville doctor faces a 10-year federal prison term after pleading guilty Thursday to sharing explicit pornographic videos and photographs involving young children.
Dr. David Shope, a hematologist-oncologist, stood before family and friends when he admitted his guilt to U.S. District Judge David Cayer. In return for his guilty plea, prosecutors have recommended that the 43-year-old serve 121 months in federal prison.
Shope’s sentencing hearing, in which his punishment could be raised or lowered by a judge, will take place at a later date. Because the videos and photographs seized in the case involve children under the age of 12, Shope faced up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and lifetime probation.
The physician, wearing a black suit, blue shirt and yellow tie, declined Cayer’s offer to speak, other than to giving short, formal yes-and-no responses to the judge’s list of questions about his plea.
He stood quietly with his attorney, Ron Frey of Charlotte, as Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimlani Ford explained the rationale for the recommended sentence, filling in added details of the crime. Shope’s punishment, Ford said, was raised five levels on the federal sentencing guidelines because police seized more than 600 images from Shope’s computers. It was raised an additional four levels because one video displayed sadomasochistic activity involving a toddler.
His final sentence will be determined by U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn.
Documents tied to the case indicate that on at least three occasions in 2015, Shope shared multiple videos with an undercover Charlotte-Mecklenburg police detective. A search of his computers revealed that Shope went on one chat room posing as a mother with a young daughter who was sexually interested in other females and daughters, and solicited photos, court documents say.
Shope was on staff at Southern Oncology Specialists in Huntersville at the time of his arrest on multiple child-pornography charges. He is no longer listed on the firm’s website. According to the North Carolina Medical Board, his license has been inactive since February 2016.
The physician has been out on bond since his arrest. But little by little Thursday, the tangible signs of his freedom began to be stripped away. A few minutes before his case was called, Shope handed his passport to Frey.
After the hearing, as he was about to be led away by U.S. marshals, Shope, now a convicted sex offender, unknotted his tie and handed it to his attorney.
As he walked from the room, Shope was removing his belt.