A former Benton County fire captain was sentenced to three years in federal prison Tuesday for downloading child pornography on his computer.
Jeffrey Kim Ripley, 63, was sentenced to a term just one month shy of the federal minimum term after previously pleading guilty.
It was two years below the mandatory minimum for receipt of child pornography, a charge that was dropped in a plea agreement.
The Department of Justice agreed to recommend a lower sentence, both because of the comparatively low number of child pornography images found on Ripley's home computer and his history of public service, said U.S. Assistant Attorney David M. Herzog in the Richland federal courthouse.
But prosecutors were conflicted.
There were just 46 images downloaded onto Ripley's computer that could be confirmed as sexual images of children younger than 10, Herzog said.
More often, thousands of images of child pornography are found, a probation officer said.
But Ripley said he used "wiping" software, which cleans off unwanted files, a few days before he allowed law enforcement officers to inspect his computer, Herzog said. The software could have destroyed other illegal files, prosecutors contended.
Herzog commended Ripley's service to the community. He was with Benton County Fire District 1 for 25 years, sometimes serving as its public spokesman.
But Ripley also posed a risk to the community and "is a person who should have known better," Herzog said.
"Early on I accepted complete responsibility for my actions," Ripley told the judge.
He said he learned in counseling and in a 12-step program that he is addicted to pornography and sex.
His computer hard drives had tens of 1,000s of legally allowable pornographic images, the prosecution said. They included 712 images that the prosecution labeled "age difficult," meaning investigators could not determine for certain if the people were under 18.
Ripley also had bookmarked websites about young boys, according to court documents.
Ripley said that he has no sexual interest in children and that he may have downloaded images "as a deterrent, a line I would not cross."
Officers told him that images had been downloaded in 2011 and only viewed once, he said.
He had not searched for any images of children, but anything can pop up on internet porn sites, Ripley said.
His attorney, Kevin Holt, said that "wiping" software found on his computer is marketed to make computers run better and would not have erased images.
Ripley came to the attention of a Richland police detective with the Internet Crimes Against Children task force after Ripley posted a Craigslist ad in 2015 seeking a "petite and sweet little princess."
An undercover officer responded, posing as the father of a 13-year-old.
Ripley and the officer corresponded periodically for about eight months. But Ripley withdrew from the conversation rather than meet the child, according to court documents.
In June 2016, the Crimes Against Children task force visited his home. Ripley invited them inside, waived his rights and allowed police to look at his computers.
Ripley was eligible for retirement the summer of 2016 and resigned his position as a paid employee with the rural fire district in southeast Benton County.
Judge Ed Shea said child pornography victimizes those who are sexually abused as children and then must live with the knowledge that their childhood images may continue to be shared online indefinitely.
A dozen of the images found on Ripley's computer equipment were of previously identified victims, and Shea ordered Ripley to pay them $6,000 in restitution. He also must pay $5,000 as a special assessment for restitution related to victim trafficking.
Ripley likely will be released from prison when he is 65, Shea said. He then will be on probation for 10 years with restrictions that include no contact with anyone under 18 other than certain family members.
He will be required to register as a sex offender.