As federal agents entered William Hoke's small white house near Seward Park in the morning hours of April 14— telling him he was under investigation for child pornography, then boxing up computers and hard drives—Hoke curled up, held his head, and began sobbing. "He repeatedly stated that his life was the Seattle Children's Theatre," court documents say. "And that his life was now over." Hoke, who managed the theater's IT department, then told the agents that he'd been downloading and viewing child pornography on his home and work computers since the 1990s.
Hoke's arrest was a shock to parents and the theater's management. It was also an end point in a two-year child-porn investigation that began in Europe and ultimately led investigators from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement division—which conducts field investigations as part of the Department of Homeland Security—to Hoke's front door.
In January 2007, the multinational law-enforcement agency Europol—which arrested several hundred child-pornography traders and producers over the last four years as a result of a sweeping investigation in more than 30 countries—tipped off the U.S. Postal Inspection Service about an online child-porn bulletin-board group. It was essentially a child-porn swap meet, hosted on several computer servers in Indiana.
According to court documents, federal investigators had interviewed a member of one of the child-porn bulletin boards (referred to in court documents as Bulletin Board A), who then directed them to several other related sites serving a community of over 500 members.
Then in July of 2007, federal agents—using the account of another bulletin-board member who, court records say, allowed investigators to assume his identity online—discovered a third bulletin board. Shortly thereafter, the site's administrators caught wind of the investigation, which they believed was brought on by a turncoat.
"I ain't going to beat around the bush here," one site administrator told another in an e-mail. "We was reported to [law enforcement] for child xxxx!!!!!!!!! Probably by the [members] we deleted over the last few weeks, as a grudge attack."
Federal agents soon took hold of the servers and began combing for information. While mining for data, investigators found 260 posts allegedly written by Hoke under the name Mglittr, short for Mr. Mortimer Glittr, court records say. It is unclear what Mr. Mortimer Glittr refers to.
"After having downloaded those, all I can say is WOW!!!" Hoke allegedly wrote about a series of photos of an 8- to 10-year-old girl lying on her back in a grass field, nude except for a pair of kneesocks. "I have never seen the whole sets!!! Just absolutely amaaaaazing photos. Very awe inspiring stuff. Her beauty in these sets is just... breathtaking."
When federal agents seized Hoke's computers, they also found photos of a girl between 9 and 11 sitting in front of a TV, sucking on the end of a hose. The young girl is naked, court documents say, except for purple ribbons in her hair.
A year and a half before federal agents showed up at Hoke's home, his wife had found several child-pornography images on his computer, according to court documents. Hoke told investigators he deleted them and that he knew what he was doing was wrong.
Most child-pornography investigations don't make the news: Since January of 2008, federal prosecutors have filed charges in 17 local child-pornography cases, while King County prosecutors filed charges in 48 cases over the same period. This one was different, of course, because Hoke had worked at the Seattle Children's Theatre for 13 years.
Hoke has been released from federal detention, put on GPS monitoring, and ordered to take a mental-health evaluation. He has been placed on administrative leave from the Seattle Children's Theatre, which has been busy doing damage control since Hoke's arrest.
Theater spokesman Jim Jewell pointed out that the theater does criminal background checks on all employees—Hoke's came up clean—and added that of all the employees at the theater, Hoke probably had "the least" contact with children. According to Jewell, Hoke initially worked in the theater's box office, but later transitioned to IT support. Hoke's office, Jewell says, is in the theater's server room, in the back of the theater near its administrative offices. The one window near Hoke's desk looks out onto a courtyard wall.
"It's been really rough," Jewell says, adding that while staff members feel concerned for someone who saw the theater as his life, they also feel angry and betrayed that a colleague was allegedly "part of the victimization of children, when the safety of children is part of [the theater's] mission." Hoke faces 10 years in prison if convicted.