On the Paper Trail of a Pedophile, Part 2: The Friendliest Little Old Workplace in Florida?
This blog article is the second in a series on John David Roy Atchison. Atchison, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Florida, Pensacola office, was arrested in Detroit in September 2007 on charges relating to pedophilia. He committed suicide in federal prison in October 2007. Arrest and suicide were not foregrounded by the Department of Justice in the Bush administration. The first articles, based largely on FBI material obtained under FOIA, focus on the criminal acts and their context in 2007 in the Pensacola office.
One question arising from Roy Atchison’s workplace at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Pensacola, Fl., (see previous post, 9/9/2010) is whether his computer use at work was monitored by anyone in authority. Given that 2007 was well post-9/11, the guess would be yes. Given the data collected by the FBI on Atchison, the actual answer seems to be no.
Take the continued information provided by [name redacted], the contract employee who helped Atchison out by buying doll clothes for the “Dora the Explorer” doll he was taking with him to meet a fictional five-year-old girl in Detroit, Sept. 2007.
[Name redacted] recalled seeing Atchison bring his personal laptop into the office. “She recalls seeing him wrapping it up to put away, such as unplugging and putting it into a bag.” [emphasis added]
When Atchison was arrested, his personal laptops—two, one being used by his wife—were confiscated, along with his workplace desktop and removable flash drives. Setting aside the criminal acts under investigation, this would seem a lot of computer drives to keep an eye on, just with a view to general security and privacy, and the trekking laptops to and from the office would seem an obvious security breach.
One question is whether Assistant U.S. Attorneys are even allowed, let alone encouraged, to bring their personal laptops to and from the office. Detailed questions placed with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Pensacola are routed to press handlers in another office. The Northern District of Florida includes the Gainesville area, where Pastor Terry Jones’ Dove World Outreach Center is located. The U.S. Attorney’s office is probably busy with other questions. However, spokesperson Laura Sweeney does transmit a statement of official policy; see below.
The workplace friendliness shown to Roy Atchison by the unnamed contract employee also extended to other people in the office. An Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Pensacola office, for example, told FBI investigators that she would have trusted Atchison “with her life” before the arrest, knew his family, and usually met him for a drink when they were both on a trip out of town. He had declined drink plans for the most recent trip to Detroit.
Remarkably, the name-redacted AUSA also had observed Atchison’s extensive computer use. Follow this one closely, for it is truly astounding:
“[AUSA, name redacted] stated Atchison had always been a “wheeler dealer” type. Atchison was always known for finding a deal. [Redacted] believed Atchison had a business on the side. [Redacted] stated she inferred this because Atchison was always using his personal laptop in the office. Atchison stated, “He was on it a lot.” [Redacted] said that Atchison even showed her how he connected the laptop to his cell phone. According to [redacted] Atchison had been bringing his personal laptop to work for approximately six months. A week prior to her Detroit visit, [redacted] told her husband that Atchison must have a side business because he had been on his personal laptop a lot more than usual.” [emphasis added]
The obvious question here is whether AUSAS are allowed to have personal ‘business on the side,’ conducted from the office. Officially federal policy prohibits moonlighting while on the job, for any federal employee and particularly for federal prosecutors. Spokesperson Laura Sweeney replies as follows:
“Ms. Burns, With respect to your questions concerning office policy in general, there are specific federal statutes and regulations governing the conduct of Department of Justice employees. These statutes and regulations are summarized in the Department of Justice Ethics Handbook. The handbook provisions most relevant to your inquiry include: Use of Government Property and Time Generally, you should be mindful of your responsibility to make an honest effort to use government property and official time, including the time of a subordinate, for official business only. However, as a Justice Department employee, you are generally authorized to make minimal personal use of most office equipment and library facilities where the cost to the Government is negligible.5 CFR 2635.70428 CFR 45.4General RuleYou should not engage in any outside employment or other outside activity that conflicts with your official duties. Employees are prohibited from engaging in outside employment that involves criminal matters, the paid practice of law or matters in which the Department is or represents a party. Only the Deputy Attorney General may waive these prohibitions.5 CFR 2635.8025 CFR 3801.106Approval for Certain Outside ActivitiesYou are required to obtain written approval for certain outside employment including the practice of law that is not otherwise prohibited or any outside employment involving a subject matter related to the responsibilities of your component.5 CFR 3801.106 These provisions, which were in effect in 2007 and long before that time, prohibit an employee from using the time of a subordinate employee for non-business purposes. They also prohibit an employee: from engaging in outside employment during business hours, from using government property for a side business, and from making personal use of government property except where the cost to the government is negligible. The events that led to the arrest of J.D. Roy Atchison and followed in its wake have caused great suffering to his family, his colleagues, and his friends. We will not compound that suffering by commenting further on those events.”
Arguably the suffering might have been minimized had Atchison not been able to take his own life while in custody, the issue for a later post in this series. In any case, in fall 2007 there was apparently no effective monitoring within the Justice Department to keep Atchison from extensive computer use for his own purposes.
The question arises whether AUSAs under the Bush administration were typically allowed to have ‘a side business,’ so long as no one caught them at it. A further question is whether they were typically allowed to conduct personal business of any kind from the office. It may be noted that the fellow Assistant U.S. Attorney not only speculated that Atchison had a ‘side business,’ but was cool with it, discussing it at home with her spouse.
Like the contract employee, the AUSA also did small personal favors for Atchison at work: “[Redacted] stated the week before she came to Detroit, she helped Atchison with digital images. Atchison had asked her for assistance in cropping photos,” and she cropped some photos, although none pertaining to child pornography.
Unbeknownst to her, the help provided by the female AUSA pertained to some unsavory fruit. When the FBI seized Atchison’s two laptops, a hard drive and two removable drives, information recovered included more than 2,900 “Possible Sexual Exploitation of Children Pictures,” 51 “Possible Sexual Exploitation of Children Pictures Involving Bondage and/or Torture,” ten “Possible Sexual Exploitation of Children Movies,” eight “Possible Pictures of the Subject of Investigation,” and hundreds of Yahoo! Chat Files including 210 files for profiles aaronpottypants and fldaddy04.
So much for ‘Big Brother’ in the Bush Justice Department of 2007: There is no reasonable doubt whatsoever that Atchison spent a noticeable amount of time online in the Pensacola office, pursuing interests it would be Bowdlerization to call ‘illicit’, without raising an alarm at work. Not only did unnamed colleagues unwittingly help Atchison, on the job, in his disturbed pursuit, nothing in the FBI file indicates that he was ever called out for using his personal laptop in the office or for using the office computer for personal business. To the contrary, Atchison’s co-workers’ attitude on his having a business on the side seems to have been favorable if not somewhat congratulatory. Atchison may have had the friendliest little old workplace in the Sunshine State.
But Atchison himself, when arrested, told authorities that he had been under increasing stress at work:
“Atchison stated that he was stressed because of a reckless AUSA that was making his life miserable. Atchison asserted his case load was three times the size of anyone else in the office. Atchison stated there were two prosecutors from his office currently on an evaluation team in Detroit, Michigan.”
Presumably the “reckless AUSA” was a different person from the helpful digital photography expert. Setting aside that Atchison might have been wiser to steer clear of Detroit for what he thought was a pedophile rendezvous if two colleagues of his were posted there, this first FBI interview is noteworthy in that Atchison fails to acknowledge how helpful and friendly his female co-workers were, how supportive of him. Rather, Atchison “asserted he has been under a lot of stress in the past year. This led to an increase in Atchison’s drinking and Internet activity. Atchison stated he found chatting with various people on the Internet interesting.”
He provided the same explanation in his initial written statement:
“I, John D Roy Atchison, over the past year or so I have been under increasing stress at work and at home. This caused undiagnosed depression, excessive alcohol consumption and I began to frequent the internet, particularly a website called Hi5. As I became more involved in that site I came across several individuals who appeared to have a network of families who allowed adults to have sexual contact with their minor daughters. Prior to this contact I had never known such a thing existed on any organized basis. Because of my state of mind at the time, I found conversation with these individuals strangely interesting . . .”
Little of this was picked up by co-workers, although one interviewee did tell the FBI that Atchison was ‘paranoid’ and always thought someone was watching him. But all of those in daily contact with Atchison expressed surprise at his arrest, and none of them had noticed any excessive drinking. As the FBI noted, Atchison’s “family, coworkers and members of the community were shocked” when he was arrested.
“The only indications of deceit,” investigators noted, “were related to his travels”:
“At the time of Atchison’s arrest, his family believed that he was on a government sponsored trip; and coworkers believed he was on authorized vacation/leave to visit a brother . . . A general comment made by those who know Atchison was that he did a lot of traveling.”
As with Atchison’s office computer use—on at least three computers and two removable drives—the office apparently facilitated, rather than monitored, his frequent traveling. Judging from the FBI file, the one travel request turned down was the trip to attend a child molestation seminar.
In his first FBI interview, according to Special Agent Matthew Bowman, Atchison “stated he doesn’t know any mothers that allow men to have sex with their children”—perhaps a true statement as far as it goes, since the correspondent he was in touch with was an undercover agent. He denied traveling to have sex with a minor, saying that “he flew to San Diego right after September 11, 2001. However, he had never flown to San Diego to have sex with a minor.” (The reason for having Atchison, a specialist in asset forfeiture proceedings, fly to San Diego just after 9/11 is not disclosed or indicated in the files. He seems to have been drafted in the push for extra manpower for 9/11 investigation.)
His explanation for the Detroit trip, in this Sept. 16 interview, was that “he came to Detroit, Michigan in order to speak to “this lady”, Jessica LNU [last name unknown]. Atchison stated that “this lady” was allowing men to have sex with her daughter. Atchison asserted that he wanted to change this woman’s mind about turning her child out for sex. Atchison stated that while he was in Detroit he was going to show her there are other ways to raise a child, without sex.”
Asked, dryly, why he did not get in touch with a child protection agency “or an investigative agency such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Atchison “replied he did not because he was ‘stupid’.”
The story about trying to set a misguided mother straight was quickly jettisoned. Pursuant to a signed proffer agreement, Atchison confessed to an interviewing agent on Oct. 3 that he traveled to Detroit intending to have sex with the fictional child, and that he brought the petroleum jelly to use as a lubricant for the purpose. He also copped to purchasing the Dora the Explorer doll and some doll clothes and admitted pornographic Internet correspondence. In the subsequent FBI interview, Atchison continued to deny that he had ever had sex with a child and said he did not know why he had embarked on this particular trip to Detroit. He did, however, admit to having taken three trips to different cities to have sex with women who were “adult baby diaper lovers.” “Atchison stated these were fetish related encounters”; on two of the trips, the woman never showed.
In the later FBI interview, Atchison also “gave details about a ring of pedophiles located in the Western United States,” according to a heavily redacted page of FBI transcription, and provided information about some of his Internet pals. Regrettably, his suicide Oct. 5, 2007, in the federal prison in Milan, Michigan, may have truncated investigation into the pedophile ring, although before his death Atchison did give authorities permission to use his online identity.
In what might be fruit from his information—although the authorities aren’t saying—the Northern District of Florida announced the convictions of seven members of an international child exploitation ring Jan. 14, 2009. Seven other defendants indicted in the same case had previously pleaded guilty. A 40-count superseding indictment came out in March 2008; members of the illicit group, described as a complex and sophisticated enterprise connected on the Internet, were said to have traded more than 400,000 images and videos of child sexual abuse before it was dismantled by law enforcement.
How much Atchison’s death impeded further investigation into the pedophile ring has not been disclosed.
[Note: The original post here was deleted by the system in May-June 2011. This article is reconstructed from Word files.]