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Four-month investigation uncovers 10 pieces of child porn on Canova man's phone, report says

Authorities submitted a warrant to Snapchat's corporate office as part of the investigation.

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The exterior of the Miner County Courthouse in Howard is pictured on June 23, 2021 as most of the building is closed for a six-month renovation project. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)
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HOWARD — A Canova man is facing multiple felony charges after a four month investigation — and a warrant to access data on Snapchat — uncovered 10 files of multimedia child porn, court records say.

On June 4, a CyberTip was forwarded to the South Dakota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force regarding a Snapchat account. The tip alleged that account contains two video files depicting child pornography.

On July 12, the task force received another tip alleging the presence of child pornography on a separate account, claiming it contained three video files of child pornography.

Special agents with the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigations were able to trace the IP address of both accounts to the same location. Through the legal process, they were able to obtain subscriber information from TrioTel Communications, and internet service provider based in Salem.

Information from TrioTel revealed the IP address was in use by Lee Thames, a 25-year-old man living in rural Canova. Authorities say other user account information was consistent with public information on the two Snapchat accounts.

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On Oct. 4, a Third Circuit judge signed a warrant, authorizing Snapchat to provide law enforcement with data from both accounts. Days later, the same judge signed a warrant to search Thames and his alternate residence in Madison.

Agents say that a review of data provided by Snapchat from both accounts contained non-pornographic images of Thames and other personal information, affirming that the accounts belonged to him.

An arrest affidavit says agents found both accounts contained the video files that were reported in the CyberTips, and that the files "depict child pornography in accordance with South Dakota law."

The affidavit also alleges that agents discovered multiple image and video files on Account Two that depicted child pornography, but were not reported in the CyberTips.

"Based upon my review of all the image files and video files ... contained within the two Snapchat user accounts, I found that some of the image files and video files show unknown prepubescent juveniles exposing their bare genitals," the arresting agent wrote in the affidavit. "Other image files and video files depict unknown adult males engaging in acts of sexual contact penetration with ... the juveniles."

Thames allegedly declined to speak with law enforcement officers during the execution of the search warrant at his apartment in Madison.

Thames' roommate claims Thames had moved in very recently, leading authorities to file criminal charges in Miner County instead of Lake County.

Thames was ultimately charged with 10 counts of possessing child pornography — each count being classified as a Class 4 felony.

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If convicted on all counts, he would face a maximum sentence of 100 years in prison, a $200,000 fine or both.

Anyone can submit a CyberTip to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children , which will be forwarded on to local task forces or federal authorities.

Dunteman covers general and breaking news as well as crime in the Mitchell Republic's 17-county coverage area. He grew up in Harrisburg, and has lived in South Dakota for over 20 years. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 after earning his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He can be reached at HDunteman@MitchellRepublic.com, or on Twitter @HRDunt.
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