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United States v. Pelfrey

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division

May 10, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
DAVID RAY PELFREY

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. CHAMBER'S UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence (ECF No. 35). In it, Defendant requests that this Court suppress the evidence gathered at his apartment pursuant to a search warrant. Mot. to Suppress Evidence, ECF No. 35, at 1-2. Defendant contends that the factual basis provided in the application for that search warrant was insufficient to support a finding of probable cause. Id. 20. Central to his argument, Defendant claims that the factual basis supporting the warrant application predominately relied upon an anonymous tip that was electronically submitted to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (“NCMEC”). Id. 2. Because the tip was given anonymously, Defendant contends that it lacked the necessary reliability to support the probable cause required for the issuance of the search warrant for Defendant's home. See Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Suppress Evidence, ECF No. 36, at 8-13. However, the Court, as explained below, finds that the factual information provided in the application sufficiently supported a finding of probable cause, and at the very least, the Leon “good faith exception” will rectify any short comings contained within the warrant application. Therefore, the Court DENIES Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence (ECF No. 35).

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case stems from an anonymous tip received by the NCMEC via its CyberTipline on June 4, 2017. The tip identified, by name, a sixteen-year-old female (“Minor Female 1”) that it said had been missing from Chicago, Illinois since May 9, 2017. The tip asserted that Minor Female 1 was being “sex trafficked” and that “[s]he is currently . . . confined by David Pelfry (approx. age 39).” Ex. B to Mot. to Suppress Evidence, ECF No. 35-2, at 4. Further, the tip identified where Minor Female 1 would be located: “his home 925 18th Street West, Huntington, West Virginia 25704.” Id. With particularity, the tip also provided that Minor Female 1 had “been there since at least 5/13/17 having been transported across state lines for the purpose of prostitution.” Id.

         The tip then continued, providing information and links regarding both Minor Female 1's and Defendant's various social media sites, and pointing out that the two were “friends” on Facebook. Id. Included among the links was one to Minor Female 1's supposed page on a site called SeekingArrangment.com. Id. According to the tipster, Minor Female 1 was “shopped around” on the website. Id. SeekingArrangement.com is a forum where “members” seek a relationship, which typically involves some financial support being given. See generally Ex. D to Mot. to Suppress Evidence, ECF No. 35-4. The website refers to those “supporters” as “Sugar Daddies” or “Sugar Mommas;” and the site also defines “Sugar Babies” as “[a]ttractive people looking for the finer things in life.” Id. at 5. On the member page of Minor Female 1, her “Lifestyle Expectations” were listed as “Moderate.” Ex. B to Mot. to Suppress Evidence, at 23.

         Despite the length of the tip, the tipster did not provide his or her name, location, or contact number. Investigators at the NCMEC attempted to locate the anonym tipster using an IP address search. That search indicated that the IP address, from which the tip originated, traced back to Poland. Id. at 15. But, the search also indicated that the tipster had intentionally sought to hide his/her IP address by using a datacenter proxy to “mask” the real IP address, and a TOR browser that enables internet users to largely hide their IP address by providing layers of encryption and IP address redirection. See Id. at 16; see also Gov.'s Reply to Def.'s Supp. Mem., ECF No. 58, at 4-5.

         Over the course of multiple hours, individuals with the NCMEC sought to confirm the abundance of information contained within the anonymous tip. See Id. at 7-17. Ultimately, the next day, June 5, 2017, the NCMEC forwarded the tip, with supplemental notes from the NCMEC's confirmatory investigation (together referred to as “Cybertip Report” or “Cybertip”), to the FBI detachment located within this District. Gov.'s Resp., at 2. The local FBI detachment then sent the Cybertip Report to the Huntington Police Department (“HPD”).

         After receiving the Cybertip Report, the HPD reviewed it, and confirmed some of the online information noted in the tip. Id. at 3. Specifically, officers with the HPD located Minor Female 1's profile on SeekingArrangement.com. Id. With that confirmation of Cybertip information, Sgt. Matt Null, Cpl. Jason Davis, and Sgt. Eddie Prichard of the HPD went to Defendant's home to conduct a “knock and talk.” Id. After a few knocking attempts, Defendant answered the door. Id. at 4.

         The HPD officers told Defendant that they were looking for a missing girl who was reported to be at his residence. Id. Defendant gave the officers permission to enter his home and to speak with Minor Female 1, who Defendant acknowledged was in the residence. Id.; Mot. to Suppress Evidence, at 8-9. Upon entering, Sgt. Null and Cpl. Davis located Minor Female 1, confirmed her identity, and engaged in a lengthy conversation with her. Id. at 4-5; Mot. to Suppress Evidence, at 8-9. Sgt. Prichard remained outside with Defendant while the other two officers spoke with Minor Female 1. Id. at 5. Later, officers at Defendant's residence relayed information to Detective Backus so that he could apply for a search warrant for the home. Id. At roughly the same time, officers asked Defendant go with them down to the police station to answer questions. Id.; Mot. to Suppress Evidence, at 10. Defendant complied with this request, and later provided incriminating statement after being Mirandized. Id. at 5, 8; Mot. to Suppress Evidence, at 10, 13-15; Ex. H to Mot. to Suppress Evidence, ECF No. 35-8, at 2.

         In applying for the warrant, Detective Backus provided the following factual recitation:

On today's date a tip from the National Center for missing [sic] and Exploited Chidlren [sic] that the defendant was in possession of the victim (K.G.) [Minor Female 1] a missing 16yr old, who was reported as a missing and endangered juvenile from Chicago, Illinois. The victim was declared missing on 05/09/2017 & tip said the victim was transported across state lines for the purposes of prostitution . . . Upon being asked how she met the defendant, the victim stated they met on the computer.[1]

Ex. F to Mot. to Suppress Evidence, ECF No. 35-6, at 2. According to the affidavit, Detective Backus submitted to the reviewing judge that these facts supported probable cause to search Defendant's home, under suspicion for violation of W.Va. Code § 61-3C-14b. Id. at 2, 5-7. The reviewing judge agreed that this recitation supported probable cause, and issued the search warrant.

         Id. at 4.

         Pursuant to the warrant, police officers retrieved various items from Defendant's apartment. Most relevantly, officers seized two cell phone, as well as other provocative costumes and toys. Gov.'s Resp., at 5; see also Ex. G to Mot. to Suppress Evidence, ECF No. 35-7, at 3. Officers obtained separate warrants for the cell phones and, after a subsequent forensic analysis, they found various images and videos of Minor Female 1 and Minor Female 2[2], as well as text ...


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