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Christopher Tator (Photo: Courtesy of the Virginia State Police)

A registered sex offender in Virginia has pleaded guilty to a child porn charge just a month after he was charged with downloading abuse videos through a Dropbox cloud account—a tactic tracked through “virtual machine” digital forensics on his computers, according to authorities.

Christopher James Tator, 31, pleaded guilty to a count of “receipt of child pornography by person with a prior conviction relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor."

Tator was initially convicted as a sex offender in 2010 for interacting online in a Yahoo chat room with someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl—but who was really an undercover law enforcement officer, according to a federal affidavit filed by an FBI agent last month. Tator solicited explicit photos, masturbated on camera, and was arrested after he arranged a rendezvous—and he was found at the location with condoms in his car, according to the affidavit. Convicted for “attempting to take indecent liberties with children, he was sentenced to two consecutive five-year terms in state prison—with nine years suspended.

But in 2015, after being released, he transported child pornography using peer-to-peer file sharing, according to federal authorities. The FBI agent swore that she had used a tool to identify IP addresses that had been using BitTorrent peer-to-peer file sharing to exchange child porn.

Tator’s IP address was linked to two files, both involving sex acts by girls who appeared to be as young as 11 and 12. One of the videos depicts a victim who had been identified by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as a minor.

Tator’s residence was subject to a search by law enforcement after a warrant was served in October 2015.

Digital forensic examinations turned up child porn evidence on three items: a Sony Android tablet, a Toshiba hard drive and a Western Digital hard drive still within a computer, according to the affidavit. The tablet yielded three videos still saved in memory, depicting underage girls, according to authorities. The Toshiba hard drive was examined by a forensic examiner, who converted an image of the drive into a “virtual machine” emulation of the computer—and recovered torrent files and recently accessed files that were child porn. The same “virtual machine” strategy was employed with the Western Digital drive, as well.

One video showed sexual acts with an infant, the affidavit adds.

But Tator was free the next year, when he was also convicted of failing to register as a sex offender in December 2016, according to the Virginia State Police. The FBI affidavit indicates that local law enforcement in Fairfax City had been tipped off about Tator because a 12-year-old girl told authorities that a suspicious person in a car had been watching her and other children waiting at a bus stop several times a week for a month. The description of that person matched Tator, and authorities realized he had not updated his sex offender registration at that time.

Tator will received at least 15 years in federal prison, and up to 40 years, at a Nov. 2 sentencing, according to authorities. 

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