by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – Vermont’s Internet Crimes Against Children (VT-ICAC) task force received a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) CyberTipline. The tip came from Facebook about “apparent child pornography” sent from a Vermont resident’s Messenger account in August 2020. The tip led to an investigation that concluded with the arrest of Hardwick resident Travis Lathe-Godfrey, now 26, for Promoting a Recording of Sexual Conduct in violation of 13 V.S.A. § 2824.
Vermont State Police Detective Jesse Sawyer of the VT-ICAC was assigned the tip. Sawyer is also a Title 19 Task Officer with Homeland Security and can enforce federal laws as a customs officer. He is trained in computer and internet investigations.
Facebook provided the task force with the name, phone number, a verified email address, and IP address from which two images were sent via Messenger with “possible involvement in online group related to CSE (Child Sexual Exploitation).” An IP address is specific to an internet-connected device and is used to make sure that traffic on the internet is routed from the correct source to the correct destination. The IP address also can be traced to location and internet provider.
Two images from the CyberTipline were sent to VT-ICAC. One fell in Facebook’s category of “A1: Prepubescent Minor involved in a sex act.” Facebook detailed that the second image was publicly available and was Lathe-Godfrey’s profile picture of a man. VT-ICAC commander Detective Raymond obtained a warrant to view the images.
Sawyer viewed the images and “found [the first] contained evidence of sexual exploitation of children.” The first image allegedly depicts the exploitation. The second image, the profile picture, “contained the image of a white male with brownish colored hair and a beard. The male appears posed for the picture. He is wearing a blue colored button shirt and smoking a cigarette.”
Sawyer requested Facebook and Google to preserve data associated Lathe-Godfrey’s email address and Facebook profile. VT-ICAC also “caused information to be obtained, via Customs Summons” about the IP address associated with the images from Comcast and the phone number from Verizon Wireless and Tracfone.
Police say Google provided VT-ICAC images “visually similar” to the profile picture from Lathe-Godfrey’s Facebook as well as Google searches for “Youth Nudist Gallery – Taboo, young nudism, nude teen girls.” Additional information received from Comcast led police to a Newport address where Lathe-Godfrey had resided.
Police say that Lathe-Godfrey “has extensive LE [Law Enforcement] contacts” including a pending charge from Newport Police of Lewd & Lascivious Conduct with a Child in Orleans County Criminal Court involving a “juvenile female” under the age of 9. A condition of release (COR) on that charge for Lathe-Godfrey was “no contact with unrelated children under the age of 16 yrs. old.” Other charges are pending because of Lathe-Godfrey’s violation of that COR and curfew.
Newport Police informed VT-ICAC that Godfrey had moved out of his Newport apartment, and a subsequent request to the court found Lathe-Godfrey had moved to Hardwick and updated his address to comply with his COR. A request to Vermont DMV yielded a vehicle registration and a photo that police say appeared to be the same person as in the profile picture.
On October 27, Hardwick Police Sgt. Darin Barber accompanied Sawyer to visit Lathe-Godfrey’s residence. Sawyer wrote “Lathe-Godfrey was found to reside at the residence with wife… his sister… and two small children” but was not home at the time. Police obtained warrants for search and electronic recording during the search.
Police made contact with Lathe-Godfrey on November 2. Lathe-Godfrey allegedly told police “his Facebook account had been shut down for unknown reasons” and the person in the profile picture was him. Police say they showed the image they believed to show child sexual abuse to Lathe-Godfrey and he “claimed not to know the child” but “agreed… that the child appeared young (est. 8-10 years old).” He allegedly proceeded to say his account had been hacked and denied any knowledge of the image or sharing it with his sister.
Police say Lathe-Godfrey began to change his story and at first “suggested that sometimes things ‘pop-up’ on sites (indicating CSAM [Child Sexual Abuse Material] but was adamant he didn’t share them/it” then allegedly “indicated that he was familiar with the CSAM image in question and it was obtained while searching for nude beach images.” Lathe-Godfrey allegedly told police he didn’t know how the image wound up in his Facebook and he believed he deleted it.
VT-ICAC executed its search warrant on the residence and seized both his new and old iPhones, then took him to Hardwick Police Department for processing. He was issued a citation to appear in Orleans County Criminal Court on November 3. Police later “located numerous files of child erotica” on one iPhone with an ongoing examination of the phones underway.
At the arraignment, Lathe-Godfrey pleaded not guilty and was released with multiple COR, including no “contact with individuals under the age of 16 years, except for [his] own children when their mother is present” and not to use the internet except for work, medical, or legal needs. He also cannot buy or use internet-connected electronics unless necessary for those needs or “congregate in a place where minors under 16 years congregate.”
If convicted, Lethe-Godfrey could face up to ten years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $20,000, or both.