CHARLOTTE — In federal court Thursday, Feb. 18, a Boone man who previously served as an athletic-training intern at Watauga High School pleaded guilty to one count of felony production of child pornography, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of North Carolina.
According to plea documents and the plea hearing, between December 2018 and February 2019, Frank Darrell Cromwell, 24, of Boone, used Snapchat to convince a minor victim that Cromwell was a female, and to communicate with the minor.
Cromwell had assisted the athletic teams at WHS through an association with Appalachian State University during the 2017-18 school year. Cromwell was later employed by Wilkes County Schools as a wrestling coach at West Wilkes Middle School for the 2018-19 wrestling season and was employed with Daymark Recovery Services, a private agency that provides specialized services to Wilkes County Schools.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, there were 10 victims in the case, and the guilty plea reflects that of one victim. Cromwell’s conduct with respect to all victims will be presented to court at sentencing, the U.S. Attorney’s office stated.
“The parties agree that the victims encompassed by all of the charges of the Superseding Bill of Indictment, whether or not dismissed, shall have all of the rights they would otherwise have had the defendant been convicted of all charges under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 3771,” the U.S. Attorney’s office stated. “Further, the parties agree that all of these victims are entitled to seek restitution, to make victim impact statements and that (the) defendant’s conduct involving the victims will be otherwise presented to the court and considered for purposes of relevant conduct.”
The U.S. Attorney’s office added that the parties agreed that U.S.S.G. §4B1.5(b) applied, which includes language stating that a defendant’s instant offense of conviction is a covered sex crime as they “engaged in a pattern of activity involving prohibited sexual conduct.”
According to allegations contained in the charging documents — including a previously filed criminal complaint — as early as March 2018, Cromwell used a cell phone app and other means to contact and entice minor male victims to produce and send sexually explicit images and videos of themselves to Cromwell. Court documents further allege that Cromwell misled the minors to believe that he was a female by using female names and images to entice the minors to produce and send him child pornography, and to engage in sexual activity.
As the superseding indictment alleges, Cromwell used the following names online and on social media to contact the young victims: “Savannah,” “princesssav222,” “lickmeup5020,” “Sav,” “frankie5020,” “Lauren,” “Sydney,” “Sarah,” “Lily,” “Kaylee” and “Stephanie.”
Cromwell admitted to inducing the minor victim to engage in sexually explicit conduct and to send explicit images and videos to Cromwell, the guilty plea was entered before U.S. Magistrate Judge David C. Keesler. At sentencing, Cromwell faces a minimum penalty of 15 years and a maximum of 30 years in prison. A sentencing date has not been set.
In making the announcement of the plea, U.S. Attorney Murray commended the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the Boone Police Department for their investigation of the case, and thanked the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation for their assistance with Cromwell’s investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cortney Randall and Emily Wasserman, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Spaugh were in charge of Cromwell’s prosecution.