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Paraprofessional at southern Illinois special ed center guilty of enticing minor for sex

A judge in the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Illinois on Thursday sentenced a former paraprofessional at Tri-County Special Education Center in Murphysboro to spend 10 years in federal prison for attempted sex crimes against a minor.

Jon P. Crawford, 45, of Pinckneyville, pleaded guilty in October to one count of attempted enticement of a minor and one count of solicitation of child pornography.

According to court documents, an undercover agent with Homeland Security Investigations created an account on an online website called Chat Avenue for a purported 13-year-old boy in April 2023.

Through the account, agents began speaking with Crawford in a chat room titled “Boys Only,” which requires users to enter a birth date indicating they are younger than 18 years old.

During those conversations, Crawford asked what he believed to be a 13-year-old boy for photos and videos of sexual acts, according to the charges, even after the agent acting as the child stated that he was uncomfortable with the conversation and that he was “scared.”

“It will be fun, I promise,” Crawford replied, according to an affidavit from the undercover agent.

In his affidavit, the Homeland Security Investigations agent places some blame for the crime on the Chat Avenue website for not better monitoring the age of users in the chat rooms. He called the site “a longstanding chat website known to often facilitate exploitation of juveniles.”

“Any user could enter any birth date they wanted and enter the room without further examination of his/her identity,” the affidavit says. “This lack of age verification and advertised use by minors realistically results in a danger zone where real children are in daily contact with adults posing as children or otherwise engaged in activities geared at exploiting children online.”