A former member of the Deputy Sheriff's office in Matagorda County Texas has been sentenced to 18 years and 4 months in federal prison after he had pleaded guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of a minor and one count of cyberstalking in May 2020.
26-year-old Pasquale T. "Gino" Salas, was arrested July 31, 2019 on a charge of cyberstalking and days later an additional charge of sexual exploitation of a minor was added.
At the time of that press release it was disclosed that the charge of sexual exploitation of a minor carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years and could go as high as 30 years in prison with five years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. The charge of cyberstalking carries a sentence of up to five years in prison with an additional three years of supervision upon release, and a fine of up to $250,000.
“The defendant was an online predator disguised in a law enforcement uniform,” said United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “He used the internet to gain the trust of vulnerable children and then turned around and exploited their innocence and played on their fears. This sentence is a warning to others, but it is also intended to stop this defendant, for the long term, from further victimizing children. We will always prioritize, and aggressively pursue, cases involving online predators.”
Salas is said to have met a 12-year-old girl online while playing Minecraft in 2014. The two communicated through a private chat room and eventually through services away from the game including text, Skype, and Snapchat. During the course of those conversations, Salas coerced the minor to transmit sexually explicit images and videos of herself.
The Star Telegram indicates that at the time Salas made initial contact with the girl, he was about 20 years old and not yet an employee of the Sheriff's Office. He was employed there in January of 2016.
By 2016 he had begun threatening that if she did not maintain communication with him, previously sent images and videos would be distributed to her family and friends. In May 2019 the girl attempted to terminate contact with Salas, but he then is said to have used web-based applications to send threatening messages to her.
An additional victim, also contacted through Minecraft was identified during the course of the investigation. She too had been in contact with Salas since the age of 12, and had been coerced to send him explicit images and videos of herself. Salas reportedly also forced her to disclose the credentials for her social media account so that he could track her activities and view her photographs.
Salas is said to have sent her images of himself in a police car and with a firearm. Salas reportedly also told her that he had law enforcement friends in Massachusetts who would follow her, and that no one would believe her if she tried to tell anyone of what he had done. According to the press release, he was in contact with this victim until the time of his arrest.
“Child predators often wear many disturbing disguises in our communities, and Pasquale Salas is no exception. As a deputy sheriff, he betrayed his oath and abused the trust that was placed in him. Instead of protecting children, he exploited children for his own sexual gratification. He is both a danger and a disgrace, and now, thanks to the courage of the victims who came forward in this case, and the hard work of our law enforcement partners, he’s been taken off the street so he can no longer harm anyone else," said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division.
During the sentencing, Mass Live reports that a statement from the first girl Salas had met online was read in court.
“He has made my life a living hell for so many years. I was naive, innocent and very vulnerable. My teenage years were wasted over a disgusting human being that I wish I never met.” Her letter additionally stated, "A teenager shouldn’t have to live in fear like I did every day,”
Mass Live further reports that Salas cried while addressing the court before he was sentenced saying, "I want to say sorry to my family and sorry to my victims for the pain I caused them.”