CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A 39-year-old Corpus Christi man who initiated a sexual relationship with a child after Hurricane Harvey displaced her family has been sentenced for producing child pornography, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
Stephen Scott Meals pleaded guilty Feb. 20.
Today, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ordered Meals to serve a 600-month sentence. At the hearing, the court heard how Meals groomed his victim over many years, gaining her trust and the trust of her family. He then initiated a sexual relationship with her while her family was displaced during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
In November 2018, law enforcement learned of the sexual relationship he had with the 15-year-old female. He admitted he had hoped to marry her – 22 years his junior at the time. When authorities identified her, she was wearing a promise ring Meals had given her.
Today, she stood before the court and bravely read her impact statement. She explained she would not live as a victim, but as a survivor.
During the investigation, authorities ultimately seized Meals’ electronic devices. Forensic evaluation revealed several pornographic images of the child victim in a secure folder on his cellular phone. Some of the images included the minor female in various stages of nudity that Meals has taken in order to memorialize the sexual assaults he had committed against her.
The investigation had also led to the discovery of an additional child victim Meals had been sexually abusing. At the hearing today, the court heard testimony from a medical expert regarding the evidence of that abuse as well as the victim’s guardian about the impact Meals’ actions have had on her family.
Meals was further ordered to serve the rest of his life on supervised release following completion of his prison term, during which time he will have to comply with numerous requirements designed to restrict his access to children and the internet. He will also be ordered to register as a sex offender.
He has been and will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
The Corpus Christi Police Department – Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brittany L. Jensen prosecuted the case, which was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood (PSC), a nationwide initiative the Department of Justice (DOJ) launched in May 2006 to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section leads PSC, which marshals federal, state and local resources to locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children and identifies and rescues victims. For more information about PSC, please visit DOJ’s PSC page. For more information about internet safety education, please visit the resources tab on that page.