According to court documents, Zackary Ellis Sanders, 27, was convicted on Oct. 27, 2021 by a federal jury of five counts of production of child pornography, six counts of receipt of child pornography, and one count of possession of child pornography, after law enforcement found that he engaged in sexually explicit online conversations with at least six different minors between 2017 and 2020.
The evidence presented at trial established that Sanders, who ran a concessions business that provided food and beverage services for local schools, met these minors on various mobile applications and an online forum. Sanders exchanged hundreds of messages with the minors, in which he instructed and induced them to engage in sexually explicit and self-harming conduct, record themselves doing so, and send the resulting videos to him. He also received videos of a sixth minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
Sanders also discussed meeting some of these minors in person and engaging in sexual acts with them and threatened to distribute a video depicting one of these minors to others at the minor’s high school if the minor did not comply with his instructions.
Additional forensic evidence recovered from multiple laptops and thumb drives found in Sanders’s bedroom pursuant to a court-authorized search established that he possessed different images and videos depicting the sexual abuse of other children, including videos depicting the sexual abuse of a toddler and prepubescent children being sexually abused and subjected to sadistic acts. Sanders told law enforcement that he obtained such images from Darkweb websites, the sole purpose of which were to share and facilitate the viewing of such material.
Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Wayne A. Jacobs, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office’s Criminal Division, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III.
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney William G. Clayman and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jay V. Prabhu and Seth M. Schlessinger prosecuted the case.
In 2021, EDVA launched “UnMasked,” a community-based educational outreach and prevention program in Virginia dedicated to raising awareness and educating the community about the prevalence of online sexual exploitation involving children and young adults. UnMasked is a multi-disciplinary partnership of local, state, federal, and non-profit stakeholders. The core curriculum is provided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) NetSmartz program.
To report an incident involving online sexual exploitation, call 1-800-843-5678 or submit a report at report.cybertip.org.
To request an UnMasked event at your school or organization, contact EDVA’s Community Outreach Coordinator at USAVAE-UnMasked@usdoj.gov.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals 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.
This case was investigated by the FBI Washington Field Office’s Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force. The task force is composed of FBI agents, along with other federal agents and detectives from northern Virginia and the District of Columbia. The task force is charged with investigating and bringing federal charges against individuals engaged in the exploitation of children and those engaged in human trafficking