Fake “model” agent also produced child porn

ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA – On Thursday, December 10, 2020, U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger sentenced Keith Eric Saunders, 50, of Brevard, N.C. to 19 years in prison for production of child pornography, announced Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.  In addition to the prison term imposed, Saunders was also ordered to serve a lifetime of supervised release and to register as a sex offender after he is released from prison.

Ronnie Martinez, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in North Carolina, and Chief John Phillip Harris, Jr. of the Brevard Police Department join U.S. Attorney Murray in making today’s announcement.

According to court documents and information introduced at the sentencing hearing, sometime between December 2017 and January 2018, Saunders met the female victim in Brevard. At the time, the victim was 15 years old. Saunders told the victim that he was a model scout and a photographer for a New Jersey-based modeling agency called “K.” Saunders was not a model agent and “K” did not actually exist. Court records show that, on multiple occasions, Saunders contacted the victim and told her that he needed photographs of her, at the request of the modeling agency. The victim met Saunders and Saunders used his phone to take pictures of the minor. On February 28, 2018, Saunders once again made contact with the victim, and told her that “K” wanted “more pics” of her. Saunders then took the victim, who by then had turned 16, to an apartment in Brevard, and proceeded to take photos of the victim that depicted sexually explicit conduct. According to court records, Saunders proceeded to have a forcible sexual encounter with the victim.

On October 18, 2019, Saunders pleaded guilty to production of child pornography. He is currently in federal custody and will be transferred to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons upon designation of a federal facility.

In making today’s announcement U.S. Attorney Murray commended HSI and the Brevard Police Department for their investigation of this case.

The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse, launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.