By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
A Mercer man was sentenced to 35 years in federal prison Wednesday on charges of two counts of producing child pornography.
Armando Cruz, 44, of 420 N. Pitt St., will now face charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and corruption of a minor filed by Mercer County detectives.
U.S. District Court Judge Arthur J. Schwab, Pittsburgh, also sentenced Cruz to a lifetime term of supervised release. The length of the prison term was agreed upon by the prosecution and defense at the time of Cruz’s plea hearing in July.
Cruz engaged in sexual contact with four girls, three of whom were under 12, in 2011 to make video and still images, which he then distributed to other men, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
In an affidavit for a search warrant of Cruz’s home, an agent of the FBI’s Pittsburgh office said his office was notified in December by the FBI’s San Diego office that Cruz was believed to be inviting girls under the age of 12 to his home and taking photographs of them in “various stages of dress and undress.”
The San Diego office sent to Pittsburgh agents several hundred photographs of three girls. Two men, Cruz and Brandon W. Schroth, also were in the photos, the FBI said.
The photographs were discovered in Denver, Colo., where the FBI had searched the home of Jeffrey A. Mueller, who was charged a year ago with selling or buying children and possession of child porn.
Mueller, a friend of Schroth’s, had computer files entitled “Armcruz/XVkids” and one that was an apparent combination including Cruz’s name.
Schroth, who has been charged with production of child porn in San Diego, identified Cruz as being in the photos. He told authorities the photos had been taken in Cruz’s home and the three girls lived in Cruz’s neighborhood, the FBI said.
Schroth, who said he met Cruz in an online chat room, admitted pulling back an 11-year-old girl’s shirt to expose her breasts while she slept, so Cruz could take a picture, the FBI said. Schroth and Cruz used the man’s camera, and loaded the photos onto Cruz’s computer.
The FBI worked with state police and a Mercer school official to identify the girls, using photos in which the girls were fully clothed. The girls were 9, 10 and 11 during the time the photos were taken.
One girl said Cruz would buy clothing for her and another victim, and Cruz told them they could keep the clothing only if they undressed and tried on the clothes in front of him. Cruz would photograph them nude, the FBI said.
The girl said she and another victim would sneak in the middle of the night into the room where Cruz’s computer was kept and saw “a lot” of photos of nude girls.
The girl said she kept going to Cruz’s home because he told her that, if she didn’t or if she told anyone, he would kill her parents.
FBI agents searched Cruz’s home Feb. 15 and seized a disposable camera, numerous compact discs and DVDs, four cellular telephones, four cameras, two hard drives, a thumb drive, a vibrator and a computer, according to an inventory sheet released by the FBI.
Another target of the probe, Earl D. Warner, 54, of Apartment 336, Brandy Springs Apartments, Mercer, is facing state police and federal charges.
Cruz’s state charges allege he molested one of the girls Dec. 7 at home.