Feds move to seize real estate in child sex abuse obscenity case

TERLINGUA — Federal authorities plan to seize a Terlingua-area compound owned by Thomas Arthur, a local man they accuse of running a for-profit website focused on child abuse text erotica.

Arthur was arrested last year after federal authorities raided his sprawling multi-building property near Terlingua. In his initial indictment, from November, federal authorities gave notice of a “demand for forfeiture,” indicating that they planned to seize his property as part of the case.

A follow-up “bill of particulars,” filed on February 21, offers more details. Prosecutors say they’ll repossess any property that was allegedly “used or intended to be used” to run Arthur’s website, as well as any property that is “traceable to gross profits or other proceeds.”

That could include everything from computers and hard drives to cash and property bought with the site’s income. Prosecutors say Arthur was earning between $10,000 and $14,000 from the website in question, as well as another one focused on adult erotica.

Notably, authorities also want to seize Arthur’s Terlingua home, where they’ve said Arthur allegedly ran the website. Authorities list out three property descriptions, all linked the address 1260 Angel Road near Terlingua. All together, the lot descriptions account for around 105 acres of land.

Meanwhile, the criminal trial against Arthur continues. Prosecutors in January requested (and a judge later granted) more time to build their case against him.

Those prosecutors say the case is “so unusual or so complex” that they will need until  around June to prepare. They cited the large amount of evidence that authorities are still sorting through, including 25 media devices like cell phones and flash drives and 95 boxes of “sexually oriented books.”

Another possible reason for the delay: the laws on text-based child pornography (as opposed to visual depictions of it) aren’t exactly settled. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that “virtual child pornography is not ‘intrinsically related’ to the sexual abuse of children.” In response, the U.S. Congress in 2003 passed new restrictions — banning drawings, cartoons, sculptures and paintings that depict a “minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.”

At a bond hearing in November, authorities said they’d found suspected child pornography on media devices owned by Arthur. But the three initial charges against Arthur — “importation or transportation of obscene matters,” “engaging in the business of selling or transferring obscene matters” and “obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children” — focused on the text-based child pornography hosted on Arthur’s website, as well as one drawing apparently made by a site member.

At that same bond hearing, federal Judge David B. Fannin declined to offer Arthur bond and instead decided to keep him custody. Fannin cited the nature and significance of Arthur’s alleged offense in his decision.

But in a filing last week, Arthur’s lawyer, Houston-based criminal defense attorney Mark Bennett, said the government should reconsider giving Arthur bond in light of the slowdown.

“More than seventy days after the detention hearing, the Government has provided almost no discovery [evidence],” Bennett wrote in his filing, from February 26. He also argued that authorities had “falsely identified ammunition seized from Defendant Arthur as ‘armor piercing’” at the previous bond hearing.

A judge on Friday agreed with the request, and Arthur now has another bond hearing set for March 16. Bennett did not respond to requests for comment by press time.