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The United States Attorney’s Office announced that during a federal court session in Billings on February 15, 2012, before Senior U.S. District Judge Jack D. Shanstrom, MICHELLE MARIE SIPES, appeared for sentencing. SIPES was sentenced to a term of:
Prison: 120 months
Special Assessment: $100
Restitution: to be determined at a later date
Supervised Release: life
SIPES was sentenced in connection with her guilty plea to aiding and abetting the receipt of child pornography.
In an offer of proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marcia K. Hurd, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
In the winter or spring of 2009, the Mobile, Alabama Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) received three VHS tapes which contained possible child pornography. A review of the videotapes determined two of the three tapes contained footage of Ricky Smith and Denise Ward sexually assaulting children. Denise Ward subsequently pled guilty in the Eastern District of Texas for her role in the sexual assaults and child pornography and is currently incarcerated in a federal penitentiary. Ricky Smith subsequently pled guilty in the Middle District of Alabama for his role in the sexual assaults and child pornography and is also incarcerated in a federal penitentiary.
On March 12, 2009, Smith entered into a proffer agreement wherein he agreed to provide information regarding his and others’ participation in the production of child pornography. Thereafter, during two separate interviews, Smith reported he had paid SIPES, a resident of Billings, for the opportunity to take sexually explicit movies of children then in her care. The incidents occurred multiple times, starting in 2001 and ending in 2004 in Billings. Upon receipt of this information, Billings law enforcement was contacted to conduct an investigation to corroborate information provided by Smith.
On June 2, 2009, SIPES was interviewed at her residence. She corroborated most of the information provided by Smith. Specifically, SIPES acknowledged she had been given cash, as well as a refrigerator by Smith and Ward, but denied there was an agreement with Smith and Ward that she would be compensated for making the children in her care available. SIPES also corroborated that Smith and Ward took the children shopping to buy them clothes and toys and that the children spent time alone with Smith and Ward in their Billings hotel, reportedly to go swimming. SIPES also acknowledged Smith and Ward had cameras and would frequently take pictures of her and the children when visiting.
On July 7, 2009, SIPES was again interviewed and confessed she had reached an agreement with Smith and Ward to allow them to take sexually explicit movies of the children in her care in exchange for cash. SIPES allowed Smith and Ward to take the children to their trailer, and on a later trip to their motel room, where they were photographed and spent the night. In exchange, SIPES was paid money.
Ward corroborated that SIPES had been paid in exchange for the opportunity to sexually exploit the children on several different occasions over the period of years. Through her actions, SIPES aided and abetted Smith and Ward’s receipt of child pornography.
Because there is no parole in the federal system, the “truth in sentencing” guidelines mandate that SIPES will likely serve all of the time imposed by the court. In the federal system, SIPES does have the opportunity to earn a sentence reduction for “good behavior.” However, this reduction will not exceed 15 percent of the overall sentence.
The investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
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