First-ever child porn suspect on FBI list, former Mellencamp keyboardist pleads guilty

HELENA, Mont. — The first-ever child pornography suspect named to the FBI’s Most Wanted list cashed out his life savings and was fleeing law enforcement on a bus traveling across Montana last year when another passenger noticed child pornography on his laptop screen.

When the bus pulled into Billings, the passenger confronted Eric Franklin Rosser — a former keyboardist for John Mellencamp — who had $20,000 in cash taped to his legs, another $50,000 in his bag and $1,000 worth of marijuana, according to court records.

“Leave me alone. I know I have a problem,” Rosser responded, according to the court files.

That July 2017 encounter led to Rosser’s arrest and his guilty plea earlier this month in U.S. District Court on a charge of accessing the internet with the intent to view child pornography. He faces a mandatory 10 to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced on Jan. 10 in Billings.

A previous child pornography conviction with ties to Thailand and Indiana could lead to a longer sentence.

Bryan C. Tipp, Rosser’s attorney in Missoula, did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment. Prosecutors declined to comment.

Rosser, 66, is a concert pianist who played with Mellencamp and has keyboard credits on two of the rock star’s albums, “Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did” in 1980 and “American Fool” in 1982.

An investigation into a child pornography ring in Indiana in the late 1990s led to Rosser’s arrest in Thailand in 2000 on charges of lewd behavior and possession of pornographic materials.

Rosser was living in Bangkok, where he played piano at an upscale hotel and ran a music school from his home, giving lessons to children from prominent families.

The FBI said Rosser produced a videotape of him sexually assaulting a pre-teen girl in Thailand and shared it with people in Indiana.

“I would venture to say it was the last pre-internet, major child pornography case that ever occurred,” said Brad Swain, now sheriff of Monroe County, Indiana. As a detective, Swain said he investigated over 500 child abuse and molestation cases, including the Rosser case.

“This was hand-to-hand exchange of materials between people,” he said, adding he doesn’t know “what the radar is or secret code that they would have that they would know they had a similar interest in such things.”

He disappeared after posting bail, and became the first child pornography suspect placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

Investigators said Rosser underwent plastic surgery and liposuction and used assumed names and fake passports to travel to the Netherlands, England and France to avoid arrest.

A tip led to his arrest in Thailand again in 2001, and he was extradited to the U.S. the next year. The former Bloomington, Indiana, resident pleaded guilty in 2003 to child pornography and international conspiracy charges and was sentenced to more than 16 years in prison.

Rosser moved to the Yakima, Washington, area after his release from prison in January 2017, and he was to be under supervised release for three years.

Five months later, Rosser’s probation officer petitioned for his arrest for violating the terms of his release. The motion said Rosser acknowledged viewing online videos of “Japanese girls who were younger than 18, young Russian girls doing gymnastics, that sort of thing.”

Rosser emptied his bank accounts, wrote letters to his family and fled to avoid returning to prison, he told officers after his arrest in Montana.

In November, a federal judge in Washington sentenced him to two years in prison for violating his supervised release.