A 35-year-old Florida man has pleaded guilty to producing child sexual abuse material of children for whom he was a ‘father figure’.
United States Attorney Roger B. Handberg announced late last week that Edward Alan Hardin, 35, Clay County, has pleaded guilty to one count of attempted production of child sex abuse material and one count of possession of such material.
Hardin faces a minimum mandatory term of 15 years, and up to 40 years, in federal prison and a potential life term of supervised release. His sentencing hearing has not yet been set.
According to the plea agreement, at various times in 2018, 2019, and 2020, Hardin had access to three female children who were in his custody. One of those children – referred to as Minor Victim 1 – had known Hardin since she was a toddler and considered Hardin to be a father figure.
Beginning when Minor Victim 1 was about 12 or 13 years old, Hardin provided money and gifts to Minor Victim 1 in exchange for the sexual abuse of Minor Victim 1.
On May 8, 2020, a deputy with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office observed Hardin’s truck parked at a shopping center in Orange Park. As the deputy approached Hardin’s truck on foot, he observed Hardin in the driver’s seat of the truck, and then observed Minor Victim 1 sit up in the passenger seat of the truck. The deputy smelled the aroma of marijuana emanating from the truck.
As the deputy approached the passenger door of the truck, he could see that Hardin’s pants were unzipped and that Hardin and Minor Victim 1 appeared nervous. Minor Victim 1 agreed to speak with a detective and disclosed text messages between her and Hardin that showed that Hardin, on multiple occasions, had made arrangements to pay Minor Victim 1 for sex.
Minor Victim 1 stated that Hardin had been sexually abusing her in the truck prior to the deputy approaching. Hardin was arrested and admitted to engaging in sexual intercourse with Minor Victim 1 earlier that day, but he claimed it was the first time and that it had been consensual.
Minor Victim 1 also identified two other child victims who had been sexually abused by Hardin.
Minor Victim 2 was interviewed and disclosed that Hardin had transported her to Valdosta, Georgia to visit a particular theme park in July 2018, when she was 15 years old. Minor Victim 2 informed detectives that Hardin had sexually abused her during the trip, and continued to maintain a sexual relationship with her until around March 2020, during all of which time Minor Victim 2 was underage.
Minor Victim 3 was interviewed and disclosed that when she was 13 years old she had attended a sleepover with Minor Victim 1. During the sleepover, Hardin provided Minor Victim 3 and Minor Victim 1 with marijuana, and Minor Victim 3 was encouraged to allow Hardin to sexually assault her, and he did so. Hardin then gave Minor Victim 3 and Minor Victim 1 $20 as payment for the sex act.
Hardin’s phone was searched and contained photos of Minor Victim 2 engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Additionally, Hardin’s phone contained text messages to Minor Victim 1 in which Hardin repeatedly requested that Minor Victim 1 produce pornographic images of herself and provide them to Hardin.
This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and the Clay County Sheriff’s Office. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Laura Cofer Taylor.