Former Highland coach arrested on child porn charges

A Highland man has been arrested after allegedly coercing young girls to commit sexual acts online, according to FBI officials. Six Michigan teenagers have been identified as victims of William T. Phillips of Highland.

“We have recently learned that a local community member, who was also a former assistant coach in our school district, has been arrested and accused of producing child pornography,” Highland Superintendent Deborah Haab said in a statement posted to the district website on Monday, July 31. “This person has served as an assistant football and assistant baseball coach in Highland in past years. He is not currently affiliated with the district in any capacity.”

FBI investigators said Phillips was one of a group of men who used an online site to exploit pre-teen and teenage girls. The men pretended to be teenagers and persuaded the girls to engage in explicit activities during live stream chats. Members of the group would record the sexual acts and share the videos with other group members.

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Phillips was identified after FBI agents executed a federal search warrant on April 10 on a man who agreed to speak with law enforcement officers after admitting to being among the group of men.

The man said their targets were mainly girls and women ages 14-18.

He told FBI agents his group started working with another set of individuals about six months ago, connecting via a chat room to strategize how to convince the young girls to engage in sexual acts. He said he remembered working with one username in particular, which agents later traced as belonging to Phillips.

The FBI obtained login information from the website and identified 15 minor victims, six of whom live in the Eastern District of Michigan.

Agents interviewed a 16- or 17-year-old girl on June 29 who said she had consistently used the website with four or five users she had believed to be teenage boys, who asked her to undress and engage in sexual acts. The victim told FBI agents she remembered chatting most frequently with a person using a specific username.

“This news is very troubling,” Haab wrote on Monday. “Law enforcement has not contacted the district about the investigation, and the only details we have about the charges are what has been published in the media. We have no reason to believe that any current or former students were victimized. Should there be any indication to the contrary, please be assured that the authorities will be immediately contacted.”

Agents discovered the person used three different MyLOL.com accounts to communicate with the victim for nearly two years, from June 27, 2015, through February 28 of this year, when the victim stopped using the site when she learned the person she was communicating with was not a fellow teenager.

MyLOL was subpoenaed on July 3 for subscriber information and IP logins for the three accounts, which were linked to two addresses in Highland. The one on Vineyard Avenue was used through February 2017, and the other, on Toc Drive, was used between February and May of 2017.

FBI agents executed a federal search warrant on July 27 at the home on Toc Drive. Phillips was allegedly  found inside a bedroom, laying on a bed. On the floor next to him was a laptop with multiple chat rooms open on the web browser, one of which was the chat room described by the man interviewed by agents, FBI officials said.

Agents found numerous child pornography videos and images on the laptop. They also found a video of a man raping a minor female.

The court document said there is probable cause to believe Phillips has produced, attempted to produce and conspired to produce child pornography and that he coerced and enticed a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct. He’s also accused of conspiring with others to receive and access child pornography and participating in a child pornography enterprise.

“News such as this can be devastating to a community, especially one as close-knit as Highland,” Haab said. “Please know that we promise that any complaint of misconduct by anyone affiliated with the district – past or present – is taken seriously. Our first priority is, and always will be, the safety of our students.” Haab added that the district’s  staff members are fingerprinted and undergo an extensive criminal history background investigation by the New York State Education Department prior to being employed, and the accused had clearance to work in the Highland district.

“If you are unsure of how to speak with your child about this topic, please do not hesitate to reach out to our school social worker, school psychologist or guidance counselors,” said Haab. “ I also encourage you to speak with your child about digital safety”

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