Justice Department Recognizes Wisconsin ICAC Task Force Members and an Assistant U.S. Attorney with Attorney General’s Special Commendation
WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice today awarded the Attorney General’s Special Commendation to four members of the Wisconsin Internet Crimes Against Children task force and an Assistant U.S. Attorney of the Western District of Wisconsin as part of the 39th annual National Missing Children’s Day commemoration.
Special Agent Theodore Indermuehle, Special Agent Wade Beardsley, Senior Digital Forensic Examiner Tyrel Olsen, Victim Services Specialist Leeana Liska and Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman received the commendation for their investigation of child sexual exploitation and prosecution of a child pornographer. This commendation recognizes members of an ICAC task force or affiliate agency who performed an investigative activity deemed exceptional or beyond the call of duty.
“This case is an excellent demonstration of the meticulous investigative work of ICAC task forces and an outstanding example of the compassionate support ICAC partners provide to victims and their families,” said OJP Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Solomon. “We are so grateful for the diligence, ingenuity and skillfulness of this outstanding team of investigators and service providers. Most of all, we are thankful that they rescued these young girls before further harm could be done and saw that they received the critical services they need.”
In August 2021, the Wisconsin Department of Justice - Division of Criminal Investigation was contacted by a local law enforcement agency requesting an ICAC investigation. The Fontana, California, Police Department had taken a complaint from a mother who reported that her 13-year-old daughter was communicating online with an adult male in Wisconsin and had made and sent him nude/explicit videos at his direction. Special Agent Theodore Indermuehle tentatively identified the suspect as McKenzie Johnson, a teacher at the Ladysmith High School in Wisconsin.
On August 24, 2021, law enforcement personnel with the Division of Criminal Investigation, the Ladysmith Police Department and the Rusk County Sheriff's Office executed a search warrant at Johnson's residence, where Senior Digital Forensic Examiner Tyrel Olsen located an electronic device with hundreds of images and video files depicting child sexual abuse. Many of the images and videos were of underage females with whom Johnson had personally communicated. Special Agent Wade Beardsley worked undercover online to identify an 11-year-old victim in New York and with the New York ICAC task force to arrange for a forensic interview of the victim, who confirmed recording this video at Johnson’s direction.
While the warrant was being executed, Johnson was interviewed at the school. During his interview, Johnson confessed to possessing the child abuse material and confirmed that he had been communicating with young girls on various online platforms. Victim Services Specialist Leeana Liska began to provide mental health services to school staff who were friends with Johnson and worked with the Ladysmith School District to ensure services were in place for Johnson's students. Special Agent Indermuehle coordinated the investigation, obtained a confession from the suspect and worked with victim services to make sure all involved individuals had the support they needed. Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman of the Western District of Wisconsin charged Johnson with production of child pornography on August 26, 2021.
“The exceptional work of this team showcases the importance of a solid network of talented investigators and victim service professionals committed to the safety of children,” said OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan. “Thanks to the resourcefulness and collaboration of these amazing professionals, several young victims are now out of harm’s way and on the road to recovery.”
The Department also recognized five special agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service headquarters and field offices, and two agents from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in Nashville for their efforts to prevent child sexual exploitation and bring missing children home. The Department declared Sue Lee from St. James Episcopal Elementary School in Los Angeles, California, winner of the 2022 National Missing Children’s Day poster contest.
Every year on May 25, the Office of Justice Programs’ Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention leads the nation in observing National Missing Children’s Day, first proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. This day shines a spotlight on child safety and honors the professionals dedicated to protecting children around the country.
In lieu of an in-person ceremony, OJJDP is launching a website today featuring information about the awardees and statements from OJP Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Solomon, OJJDP Administrator Ryan and President and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children Michelle DeLaune.
The Office of Justice Programs provides federal leadership, grants, training, technical assistance and other resources to improve the nation’s capacity to prevent and reduce crime, advance racial equity in the administration of justice, assist victims and strengthen the criminal and juvenile justice systems. More information about OJP and its components can be found at www.ojp.gov.