By Calvin Palmer
A Texas man was convicted today at the federal court in San Antonio of trying to sell his girlfriend’s five-year-old daughter for sex and child pornography.
Sean Michael Block, 40, of San Antonio faces 30 years to life on the sale count, and five years to 20 years on the child pornography conviction.
The case involved explicit testimony relating to communications between Block and his girlfriend Jennifer Richards. It also blew the cover of an FBI informant, a well-known San Antonio businessman.
Prosecutors Tracy Braun and Sarah Wannarka said outside court the case was difficult to present to the jury, but the government chose to come full force — including outing their confidential source — because of its commitment to catching child molesters and pornographers.
“Would people believe this was really happening?” Braun asked. “It’s difficult for people to fathom that some people in the community would sell their children for sex.”
Richards, 25, pleaded guilty on April 22 to trying to sell her daughter, knowing the girl would be used for sex and that graphic images would be taken. Richards testified that she agreed to the sale after prodding by Block to do it, although Block blamed her.
Her cooperation with prosecutors might mean she only gets 20 years instead of the minimum 30 years in prison.
Block’s lawyers, Jimmy Parks Jr. and Ed Camara, argued that the attempted sale was simply part of the fantasies of the couple’s lifestyle, and that Block did not act upon them.
Parks said it might have been difficult for the jury to look beyond the sexual practices of the couple.
“The text messages and online chats were salacious and sometimes difficult to listen to for people not into that lifestyle or not familiar with that lifestyle,” he said.
Block and Richards led a lifestyle that included bondage, domination, submission and sexual role-playing. The pair discussed having sex first with Richards’ five-year-old daughter and later with her 10-month-old daughter when she got older.
Richards testified their lifestyle also included group sex, cutting and pushing the limits of pain for sexual gratification.
Block also sent two child-pornography links to Richards and got excited about watching them with Richards.
The texts and chats also discussed selling the girls to men, according to Block, taking photos and videos of the men having sex with Block’s older daughter first, and using the recordings to blackmail the men.
Among the men the couple discussed was William Gholson, the owner of Billy Bob’s Beds, who was secretly working with FBI agents trying to catch child predators.
Gholson met Block in 2007 at the Cheesecake Factory, where Block worked and where Block later met Richards to start their affair.
Working with agents, Gholson gained the couple’s confidence and posed as a predator after Block offered Richards’ 5-year-old for Gholson to “groom” for sex.
In exchange, Richards was to get an apartment, a used car and her bills paid, although Block’s chats and texts discussed pumping more money out of Gholson, whom he referred to as a “sugar daddy”.
FBI agents wired Gholson and recorded his phone conversations with Block and Richards. Gholson testified during the trial to help link the evidence. He also said that in the time he acted as a source for law enforcement he made about $1 million, including expenses.
The risk of outing Gholson — who has white-collar crime convictions that include tax evasion from 30 years ago and has been an informant for more than two decades — was something the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office discussed before putting him on the stand, according to Braun.
Braun said because of the importance of the case “everyone was willing to do it, including him”.
[Based on a report by the San Antonio Express-News.]