PORTLAND, Ind. – A Hartford City man has pleaded guilty after court documents claimed he solicited sexual content from minors, even suggesting he’d “kidnap them.”
Investigators said they began their investigation in November 2022, after receiving a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
A user from an online social media chat room had been reportedly messaging underaged girls asking for sex. The user was later identified as 28-year-old Michael V. Winters.
Police said on Aug. 4, 2022, Winters sent several messages to a 14-year-old girl, even disclosing that he was 26 at the time:
- “Worst case scenario, I can just come kidnap you, right?”
- “Wanna give me your full address? [It’ll] probably be a year before I can realistically kidnap you, but I’m down to start planning.”
- “As long as you don’t go anywhere, I’ll come for you.”
- “[Of course], what sense would it make to never actually get to f**k you?”
Winters also asked the girl to send nude pictures of herself in a sexual manner.
The probable cause also detailed another 15-year-old girl whom Winters would chat with.
Due to the nature of the threat of kidnapping, police escalated for an emergency search warrant.
Investigators said they were granted a search warrant for the property in Hartford City, where [Winters’] IP address originated.
Police confiscated and secured all electronic devices in the home and spoke with the owners of the property. The man at the home denied having anything to do with child porn.
Investigators later learned that Winters had reportedly used an unsecured Wi-Fi extender on the man’s property to access the internet.
When officers tried to call the numbers provided by Winters in messages to the girls, one line was disconnected and the other went to voicemail.
Court documents stated the number that went to voicemail began texting who they believed to be one of the teen girls [officers had custody of the victim’s phone].
Police were able to get the man, later identified as Winters to send a picture of himself which revealed his workplace.
Officers were also able to speak with the parents of the girls who confirmed they sent pictures to Winters.
Police said they then got a search warrant for Winters’ home where they found his phone filled with explicit images of minor girls and messages.
In some of the messages found on the phone, Winters was reportedly blackmailing girls.
Winters was charged with:
- promotion of sexual trafficking, Level 3 felony;
- four counts of child solicitation, Level 5 felonies;
- kidnapping (conspiracy to commit), Level 6 felony;
- vicarious sexual gratification, Level 5 felony;
- inappropriate communication with a child, Class A misdemeanor.
On Nov. 15, 2023, Winters entered a guilty plea to two counts of child solicitation and all other charges would be dismissed.
A hearing for the plea agreement was set for Jan. 22, 2024, at 10 a.m.
Any sentencing would also take place during that hearing.