Whisnant sentenced to 6.5 years in federal prison for child pornography

Published 10:00 pm Monday, February 16, 2015

An Easley man, formerly of Columbus, was sentenced last week in federal court in Asheville for child pornography.

Michael Whisnant, 42, was sentenced to 78 months in prison and to a lifetime of supervised released. He was arrested in January 2014 by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office after it was discovered he received and possessed images depicting child pornography. Whisnant pleaded guilty to the charges of one count of possession of child pornography and one count of receipt of child pornography in federal court in June 2014. He has been held in federal custody since April 2014.

When Whisnant lived in Polk County, he resided at 60 Overlook Circle, Columbus. The sheriff’s office originally arrested Whisnant on charges of nine counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Whisnant was a substitute teacher with Polk County Schools at one time but was not employed with the school system at the time of his arrest.

The sheriff’s office investigated Whisnant as a joint operation with federal agents for about three months prior to making the arrest.

During a search warrant of Whisnant’s Columbus home, investigators found images and videos of child pornography, according to sheriff reports. Whisnant was accused of sending and receiving downloads of child pornography, according to the sheriff’s office.

Whisnant left the Polk County area prior to his arrest and the sheriff’s office entered him as wanted. Anderson, S.C. sheriff’s deputies arrested Whisnant on Jan. 27, 2014 and he was transported to Polk County where he was held under a $100,000 until his transfer to federal custody.

Child pornography is a class E felony in North Carolina.

According to North Carolina General Statute 14-190.17, second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor includes when a person records, photographs, films, develops or duplicates material that contains a visual representation of a minor engaged in sexual activity; or distributes, transports, exhibits, receives, sells, purchases, exchanges or solicits material that contains a visual representation of a minor engaged in sexual activity. The law specifically states that mistake of age is no defense.

U.S. District Court Judge Martin Reidinger sentenced Whisnant on Thursday, Feb. 12. Reidinger also last week sentenced Keiron Mann, 45, of Hendersonville to 40 years in prison and a lifetime of supervised release, to continue to register as a sex offender and to pay $50,000 as restitution to his victims on production of child pornography charges.

Judge Reidinger also sentenced last week Tabatha Dianne Black, 35, of Bakersville to 210 months in prison and a lifetime of supervised release. According to court records, from May to June 2012, in Yancey County, Black did entice and coerce a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of it which she then distributed.

The case was prosecuted by Homeland Security Investigation (HSI).

U.S. Attorney Tompkins thanked all the law enforcement agencies that investigated these cases for their outstanding work and said, “My Office and our law enforcement partners will not allow child predators to victimize innocent children. We will find and prosecute those who prey upon the most vulnerable members of our communities.”

All three defendants will be transferred to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons upon designation of a federal facility, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Any federal sentence is served without the possibility of parole.

The 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, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 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 through the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.