The Craigslist personal ads were explicit: A man wanted to have sex with a young girl — or at least a woman who appeared to be young.
“Please be young or willing to play with young,” one ad read, indicating the poster was 29. “Be real and willing to please.”
But a child didn’t respond, according to court documents.
Users reported the posts as suspicious, federal agents investigated and a Portsmouth man was arrested.
Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Houston Birchett, who serves with the Navy as an information systems technician, was charged earlier this month with one count of possession of child pornography.
“The defendant is not just someone who sat behind a computer and looked at child porn,” Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Heck said in court Thursday. “He actively solicited sex with minors.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas E. Miller agreed last week to let Birchett go free after being told he could stay with his sister and return to work on the USS George H.W. Bush, though not in IT since he’s now barred from using computers. But after hearing testimony Thursday that the sister told investigators she believed federal agents had planted child porn on her brother’s computers the judge changed his mind.
Miller said Thursday he was concerned the sister, who denied making such statements, wouldn’t be willing or able to properly police her brother’s activity pending trial. He ordered Birchett to remain at Western Tidewater Regional Jail.
Defense attorney Chad Dorsk left the courthouse without speaking with a reporter.
According to court documents, the Craigslist advertisements were posted in January 2018, shortly before the site removed its personal-ad section. Later that year, in May, agents with Homeland Security Investigations were able to trace them to an IP address linked to Birchett’s former home on Pepperwood Lane.
Investigators interviewed Birchett in November 2018, while he was assigned to U.S. Fleet Cyber Command in Suffolk. He subsequently admitted to posting the Craigslist ads, but denied he was seeking to have sex with a child.
Birchett then agreed to let investigators search one of his computers and make a copy of its hard drive. Agents found several file names that seemed to indicate child pornography.
Agents interviewed Birchett again in October 2019 while he was assigned to the Bush and asked about the file names. He said he received the files from another military member back in 2008 or 2009.
When agents asked him when he last looked at child pornography, Birchett responded he didn’t know exactly. He thought it was probably earlier that year.
“Not much after this (expletive) happened the first (expletive) time,” he said.
Birchett went on to tell agents which computer he used to visit the dark web and search for child pornography and how he located it, court documents said.
Examinations of two desktop computers and two external hard drives recovered from his house revealed child pornography on three of the four devices, documents said.
In all, investigators located 83 photos and one video of suspected child pornography in system backups from 2017. The exam also recovered evidence of 52 deleted images and four deleted video file fragments, documents said.
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