In Alpine hearing, judge denies bail to man accused of running child sex abuse erotica site

ALPINE — At a hearing Wednesday morning at the U.S. District Court in Alpine, Judge David B. Fannin declined to offer bond to Tom Arthur, a Terlingua-area man that authorities say ran an erotic text site focused on child sex abuse. Fannin cited the nature and significance of Arthur’s alleged offense in his decision.

Fannin also declined to have Arthur, in his 60s, removed from solitary confinement at the Pecos Detention Center — with Fannin saying he would not “undermine” the decisions of U.S. Marshals Service, which he said could be keeping Arthur in solitary for his own protection.

During the hearing, an FBI special agent who worked on the investigation described some of his findings. Around 50 weapons — including antiques — were found at the residence, the agent said. Arthur was selling firearms online, along with ammunition Arthur allegedly advertised as “armor-piercing.”

The government has found several suspected child pornography images, the agent said, including of a child believed to be between the ages of 10 and 12 and other photos that reportedly depict nude teenage girls. The images are still being investigated.

Investigators are cooperating with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which has received over 40 tips regarding the website Arthur reportedly ran. The agent said Arthur ran the website himself and had a background in computer programming, citing at least one interview between Arthur and authorities.

Arthur ran his website through a virtual private server in the Netherlands, the agent said. Between that and another site — which focused on adult erotica and/or pornography — Arthur was earning between $10,000 and $14,000 a month, the agent said.

In an attempt to secure bond, Arthur’s lawyer stressed that all of Arthur’s offenses were computer-based and that Arthur lived on a secluded ranch where he would not come into contact with children. He downplayed concerns about the firearms, saying that Arthur did not need a license to sell firearms online.

He argued Arthur — who was born in Germany but has not returned in recent decades, and who doesn’t apparently speak Spanish despite living near the U.S.-Mexico border — was not a flight risk or a danger to the community.

He also downplayed the complaints made about the child-erotica website — asking the FBI agent if reports were made to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children by “busybodies, perhaps?”

“I don’t know the nature of the people,” the agent said.

“Exactly,” Arthur’s lawyer said.

Arthur — a slender man with a deep tan, a mop of dark brown hair and a white goatee — sat still for much of the hearing.