I'm Lonnie Joseph Parker, a physician who spent more than four years in federal prison after being convicted of possession of child pornography under conditions which the average citizen would not believe could possibly happen.
An article last week in the Democrat-Gazette covered my recent hearing [requesting an injunction in federal court over a new law that prohibits a registered sex offender from being a Medicaid provider in Arkansas]. One of the issues raised and being considered by the court is the "depraved nature" of the images for which I was prosecuted, images I received through a now-antiquated AOL mass-messaging system. The horrible nature of those images was what motivated me to preserve the evidence and call the authorities in the first place — I was that upset and angry. Virtually anyone on the Internet for any reason, especially during the 1990s in the early days of email, has received unwanted or objectionable material. Most people simply ignore such things and go on about their day. Perhaps my life would have been drastically different if I had done the same.
My first concern upon seeing these images was the fear that they had been sent to my daughter. But when I told this to the U.S. Customs agent who later interviewed me, he noted that I tried to blame the existence of the images on my daughter. This is ridiculous. My first and primary concern was for the safety of my children. Later it became clear that the images had not been sent to her specifically, but they bothered me enough that I felt I should contact the authorities to let them know. This was in the very early days of the Internet (late 1996 and early 1997), and since I did not know which federal agency had jurisdiction, I called a friend in federal law enforcement to ask whom I should contact. He suggested I call the FBI.
I called the FBI in Rochester, Minn., where I was on civilian deferment from the Air Force to study medicine on a military scholarship. We discussed what I had seen and he said there wasn't much they could do without more information, but if something actionable came along I should let them know. (Let me stress that I was not instructed to destroy the evidence.) Later I received more spam from someone advertising that he had a child available for sexual purposes; again, I called the FBI in Rochester. They asked that I try to establish a meeting so they could set up a sting operation to catch him. This was done and he agreed to meet at a hotel near Minneapolis, about 83 miles from Rochester. This information was given to the Rochester FBI and they in turn gave it to the Minneapolis FBI. I spoke to the Minneapolis FBI over the telephone many times. I have the telephone records from that time to prove this.
A trap was set but was unsuccessful. The FBI again asked me to let them know if another meeting could be arranged or if anything else developed. Again I was not instructed to destroy any evidence. Since I was about to graduate from the Mayo Clinic Medical School, I called the FBI and asked what I should do with the materials on my computer. I was told to call the FBI in Little Rock, where I moved in July to start my training in emergency medicine. I called the FBI after my arrival and gave them a summary of everything that had happened. They did not offer to come and take possession of the materials but told me to bring it in, "when I got a chance."