For the second time in a week, a Kennewick man admitted to sex crimes involving three young children.
Sean M. Challe, 29, on Monday pleaded guilty in Richland’s federal court to three counts of producing child pornography.
The victims — a preschooler and two toddlers — also were the subjects of Challe’s April 13 guilty pleas in Benton County Superior Court for child rape and child molestation.
The resolution of the state and federal cases could see Challe going to prison for at least 30 years with a maximum life sentence.
Challe has been held in the Benton County jail since his Sept. 21 arrest for sexually assaulting his friends’ daughter as the girl slept.
That case sparked an investigation into other possible illegal activities by Challe, owner of Sean Challe Photography, after Richland detectives found photographs of naked boys and girls and negatives of babies and toddlers.
Challe reportedly used his business to get close to children. In one incident, he took pictures of himself molesting a little girl during a photo shoot when the mother stepped out of the room to check on her other children.
Investigators ended up finding more than 20,000 images of child pornography, along with videos, on digital storage devices seized from Challe’s home office. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, NCMEC, reviewed the child porn and identified victims in at least 3,600 images.
Richland police Capt. Mike Cobb last year called the case one of the largest Tri-City child sex offense investigations in recent memory.
Three of Challe’s four charges in Superior Court included the aggravating circumstance that he used a position of trust to commit the crimes.
He was indicted by a federal grand jury in January on a total six counts involving production, distribution and possession of child pornography.
On Monday, Assistant U.S. attorney Alison Gregoire said the agreement with Challe and his attorney, Nicholas Marchi, was to admit the three production charges in U.S. District Court.
Dennis Hanson, Challe’s defense attorney on the Superior Court case, also was in federal court for the plea.
Both state and federal prosecutors have agreed they will not bring additional charges against Challe.
Judge Sal Mendoza Jr. asked Challe to tell him what he believed he did to make him guilty.
“I took sexually explicit photographs of minors that were then produced and transported across state lines,” Challe answered.
Mendoza entered the guilty pleas, but said he would hold off on accepting the plea agreement until after reading a presentencing report. That report, which will delve into not only Challe’s crimes but his background, will be completed over the next couple months in advance of the scheduled July 9 sentencing in federal court.
The standard penalty for producing child porn includes a mandatory minimum of 15 years with a possible max life term.
Gregoire said she will recommend 30 years in prison. It is expected the federal sentence will be served at the same time as the state term — also a recommendation of 30 years — though either judge can decide to order them done back-to-back.
With the federal sentence, Challe also will be on supervised release for the rest of his life and will have to register as a sex offender.
Gregoire on Monday asked Mendoza to seal the plea agreement, which included a lengthy factual basis of the crimes. Marchi did not oppose the motion, so the judge granted the request.