Could SoCal Child Porn Collector Have Been Working Undercover for Police?

Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse (Photo by R. Scott Moxley)

A collector of child pornography involving toddlers, James William Thurman-Tanner, of Anaheim, found 14-year-old Giselle on Mocospace.com in late January 2015, chatted with her online for days, confirmed she was a virgin, graphically described sex acts he wanted to perform, promised he would ply her with alcohol and marijuana “for pain management,” and arranged a rendezvous.

Fretting he’d go to prison if caught because he was 19 years older, Thurman arrived on a Saturday morning at a Harbor Boulevard Starbucks in Fullerton carrying pot as well as condoms in his wallet and a Bible in his hand. He’d told the girl to play along with his cover story in case anyone became suspicious: They were meeting to talk about God.

“On Saturday you will no longer be a girl,” Thurman, who’d scouted a cheap nearby second-story motel room, wrote in a pre-meeting message. “You will be a woman. Sex turns all girls into women . . . my lovely little dove. . . . I want you to be mine forever.”

At the coffee shop, he received Giselle’s text message informing him she was on the way and had a drink request. Thurman ordered a Carmel Macchiato for her, a Frappuccino for himself and sat a table to wait. But the girl never showed up because she didn’t exist.

Giselle, it turns out, was Timothy Kirkham, a special agent with the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement wing of Homeland Security. Assigned to the Orange County Child Exploitation Task Force, Kirkham walked into the Starbucks with a local law-enforcement partner, Sandy Longnecker, a deputy at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. They placed handcuffs around Thurman’s wrists and arrested him.

“I can only imagine this is very alarming for you,” said Kirkham, who’d been investigating a Gmail account that received a series of kiddie porn images from a Florida man and, after suspecting the account belonged to Thurman, established the Giselle character to lure him into the trap.

“No,” a cocky Thurman replied, “I’m a human lie detector.”

He then explained that he was working undercover for a cop to find and defend underage girls before they could be exploited.

“So,” Thurman said, “I was trying to actually not hurt but protect. I’ve always been a protector.”

He was himself a victim, he claimed.

“For two years, from the ages of 5 to 7, I was beaten within an inch of my life on a daily basis and sodomized every day,” Thurman told the officers. “I went to every authority, and they didn’t believe me.”

Kirkham replied, “That’s terrible.”

“I could’ve been a lot worse than I am now,” Thurman continued. “But I chose not to. I chose to protect rather than to harm.”

He eventually explained that he sought child pornography on the internet and forwarded the images without looking at them to the cop, whose name he couldn’t remember.

“I had to do this on my own,” said Thurman, who worked at a McDonald’s. “So, I’ve been trying to . . . [pause] . . . What took you guys so long?”

Kirkham asked if he thought they’d come to the Starbucks to help him expose sex offenders seeking minor children.

“Yes,” he replied. “I wasn’t going to do anything [to Giselle]. I was going to try to set her on the right path. That’s why I had on my Bible shirt and my Bible at the table.”

Kirkham said, “Okay.”

“Because I was going to do, literally do, a Bible study. I wasn’t joking about that.”

The officer then asked if he’d intended to do various sex acts to Giselle that he described during the online chats.

“No! I knew it was you guys! It didn’t have any meaning behind it. You can call me a chameleon.”

Kirkham said, “According to you, you’re trying to do a good deed, right?”

“Yeah . . . yeah.”

This month inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, U.S District Court Judge David O. Carter rewarded Thurman’s deeds: possession of child pornography, distribution of child pornography and use of interstate commerce to attempt to induce a minor to engage in sexual activity.

He’ll spend the next 15 years in prison. He must register as a sex offender and undergo supervised daily probation for an additional 20 years when he is freed from custody. During that period, he is also required to participate in psychological counseling.

CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.

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