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Former Army recruiter gets six-year sentence on child-porn charge

Danilo Fernandez II, shown here in 2014, was found guilty on two counts of being in receipt of material involving sexual exploitation of a minor for actively soliciting explicit photos from a high schooler who attended one of his recruiting presentations.

GEORGE MARKFELDER/U.S. ARMY PHOTO

By HANNAH WINSTON | The Palm Beach Post | Published: January 5, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — A former Army recruiter who pleaded guilty to receiving child pornography from a 17-year-old student was sentenced Friday afternoon to six years in federal prison.

Danilo Fernandez II, 37, was sentenced by Judge Kenneth A. Marra for two counts of being in receipt of material involving sexual exploitation of a minor. The sentence was less than the recommended 78 to 97 months of the sentencing guidelines. Once he finishes his sentence, Fernandez will be on supervised release and have to register as a sexual offender.

Fernandez pleaded guilty in July, and as part of that agreement prosecutors dropped the first charge, enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity, which had a minimum of 15 years in prison.

Fernandez's lawyer, David Olson asked for the minimum of five years imprisonment, citing Fernandez's lack of criminal history, decorated time in the Army and vast support from his family.

"Of course a crime was committed and he admits it happened," Olson said. "He made a huge mistake."

Assistant United States Attorney Gregory Schiller said everyone should be thankful for Fernandez's service to the country. But, he argued, it didn't excuse him from what happened. He said not only did Fernandez know the student was 17 years old, but that he also directed her in messages on how to take explicit photos and videos of herself and that if it wasn't for a friend of the teen who told a teacher, no one may have ever found out what was going on.

"If you could write out a script of what they wrote and gave it to an X-rated movie producer, they would say, 'Wow, this is unbelievable,' " Schiller said.

According to the criminal complaint, Fernandez began communicating with the student while he worked as a staff sergeant Army recruiter out of William T. Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens. The student attended one of his recruiting presentations and completed a contact card. On Oct. 30, 2017, he contacted the student and "conversations of a sexual nature began between him and the victim on that same day."

Investigators said Fernandez solicited sexual images from the student via Snapchat, a social-media app where users share pictures and videos, and inappropriately touched the teen on a trip back from the Army recruiting office on Federal Highway in Stuart.

The age of sexual consent in Florida is 18. No one under the age of 16 can give consent under any circumstances, according to Florida statutes. People between the ages of 16 and 17 can give consent to a partner to the age of 23. Anyone 24 years old or older commits a felony if he or she engages in sexual activity with someone under the age of 18.

The relationship was discovered after the student told a friend, the friend told a teacher and the teacher called law enforcement, according to court documents.

In court, Schiller said that investigators were only able to recover a few images because the teen saved them, but said there may have been hundreds of images.

Before Fernandez was sentenced, he spoke directly to the judge asking for leniency.

"I really messed up. I've done so much good for my family for this country," he said. "I want to be able to tell (my family) I'm sorry and that I'm a disappointment as a father, a son and a husband."

In a letter submitted to the court, and read at an earlier hearing, Fernandez's wife of more than 14 years said she still supported her husband. She acknowledged some may question why she stands behind a man "who the world sees as a monster and a predator" but said her husband is "more than what is described in his court paperwork" and that he gave her life "a complete turnaround."

She said her husband suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and though he wished to leave the Army after several tours of Iraq, he continued to serve in order to take care of their family.

"(Judge) I ask that you send this man back home as soon as possible to his loving daughters," she wrote. "These girls are not focused on the headlines and the charges, they are focused on when is (Fernandez) coming home."

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