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Idaho State News

Idaho Falls Man Pleads Guilty to Enticement of a Child, Faces a Max Sentence of Life in Prison

United States Attorney’s Office District of Idaho

POCATELLO – An Idaho Falls man pleaded guilty in federal court to attempted coercion and enticement of a child. According to court records, Joel Hawley Phelps, 63, admitted that, on September 24, 2021, he texted with a person he thought was a 14-year-old girl, but was instead, a law enforcement officer acting undercover. 

During their conversations, the undercover officer made clear that she was only 14 years old. Phelps asked to meet with her for the purposes of sexual intercourse, and they agreed to meet at a convenience store for that purpose.

On October 4, 2021, Phelps drove to the agreed-upon convenience store, where he was arrested.  Phelps’ phone was searched and found to contain the messages in which he agreed to meet the fictitious girl for intercourse. Phelps also admitted in an interview with law enforcement that he had traveled to the gas station to have sex with the purported girl.

Phelps is scheduled to be sentenced on June 13, 2022, and faces a maximum penalty of a lifetime in federal prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

“In 2022, this office is projected to file more Project Safe Childhood cases than ever before,” stated U.S. Attorney Rafael M. Gonzalez, Jr. “In fact, we expect our case filings to increase 22 percent over the preceding four-year average. What is astounding is that that average was an all-time high. The reason we are able to catch a record number of child predators is that our partner agencies, federal, state, and local, are sending us a record number of investigations,” Mr. Gonzalez added. “Like today’s case, a significant percentage of these child safety investigations are brought to us by ICAC. I commend ICAC and Attorney General Wasden for their work and our partnership. Together, we make Idaho a safer place for children,” he concluded.

“The crimes of child pornography and enticement are particularly vile because of who they target,” Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said. “But these strong local, state, and federal partnerships give us the ability to push back and put dangerous criminals in prison. By working these cases whether from cyber tip or undercover operation to sentencing, Idaho law enforcement and prosecutors are making a difference in the lives of our children and grandchildren.”

U.S. Attorney Gonzalez commended the cooperative efforts of the Idaho Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, the Idaho Falls Police Department, and Homeland Security Investigations in Idaho Falls, which led to charges.

ICAC will be hosting a virtual event on April 6, 2022, to provide more information and resources regarding internet safety for children. The program, “Digital Dangers: Helping Idaho Adults Protect Children,” will be streamed live via YouTube on April 6 from 7:00 to 8:15 p.m. MDT, and will include information about online risks to children and teens and mental health effects children can suffer as a result of unhealthy online habits. The program will also include a presentation on the federal prosecution of online sexual predators. Presenters include: Chris McCormick, Idaho ICAC Commander; Mark Dalton, Idaho ICAC Investigator; Dr. Noreen Womack, Pediatrician; and Kassandra McGrady, Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho.

The YouTube channel is titled “Office of the Attorney General, State of Idaho” and is available at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3ouMPXe9am2bWa2l9g4M6Q.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. As part of Project Safe Childhood, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho and the Idaho Attorney General’s Office partner to marshal federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc.