ASHEVILLE, N.C. – U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray announced today that William Richard Hilliard, Jr., 51, a former resident of Cleveland County and Cherryville, N.C., currently residing in Gastonia, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for secretly recording nude videos of underage females aboard his yacht. In addition to the prison term imposed, Chief U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger also ordered Hilliard to serve a lifetime of supervised release and to register as a sex offender upon his release from prison. Hilliard was also ordered to pay $88,476 as restitution to five victims and a $5,000 special assessment fee.
According to information contained in filed court documents and statements made in court, Hilliard was arrested on June 11, 2018, by Myrtle Beach, South Carolina law enforcement officers on charges of video voyeurism. Hilliard was the owner of a yacht called “Yachts O’ Trouble,” and he had been discovered secretly recording nude videos of unsuspecting females aboard his yacht, including minor and adult guests. Court records show that as a result of the events surrounding his arrest, the FBI coordinated an extensive multi-state and multi-agency investigation.
As Hilliard admitted in court documents, law enforcement discovered that, over the course of eight to ten years, Hilliard had secretly produced multiple secret recordings of at least 16 child victims at various locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama, including aboard his yacht, in his homes, in various hotel rooms, and elsewhere. Court records also show that, at times, Hilliard produced secret recordings of victims he had hired as babysitters for his young children, and used multiple hidden devices to record his victims from different angles while they were using the shower and changing clothes. Some of the victims were as young as five years old. According to court records, also Hilliard engaged in sexual acts with one of the minor victims, which he secretly recorded.
On April 22, 2019, Hilliard pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation of a minor and possession of child pornography. He is currently in custody and will be transferred to the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons upon designation of a federal facility.
In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney Murray thanked the FBI’s Charlotte Division, the Myrtle Beach Police Department, the Horry County Police Department, and the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office for their investigation of this case with assistance from FBI Knoxville, FBI Birmingham, Homeland Security Investigations, the Cherryville Police Department and the Gastonia Police Department. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville prosecuted the case.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in 2006 by the Department of Justice, aimed at combating the growing online sexual exploitation of children. By combining resources, federal, state and local agencies are better able to locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue those victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.