Feds charge Cuyahoga Falls man with trying to buy girl

Ed Balint
Robert W. Thomas Jr.

A man accused of trying to buy a 10-year-old girl for $400 to use for sex will face allegations in federal court and a potential 30-years-to-life prison term.

Federal officials filed charges against Robert W. Thomas Jr. and moved his case into the federal court system.

Thomas, 36, of Cuyahoga Falls, is accused of posting an online ad looking for parents interested in arranging a "marriage" for their daughter. He then showed up in Alliance to buy the child, but was arrested as part of an undercover police sting.

City prosecutors on Wednesday dismissed the local charges of trafficking in persons, attempted kidnapping and attempted rape so Thomas could be prosecuted on the federal level.

The move to federal court allows for a stiffer potential punishment, said Vicki D. Anderson, a special agent at the Cleveland office of the FBI. The decision was made by investigators and the Alliance law department.

The federal charge — wanting to buy a child and planning to take sexually explicit photographs to share via computer — carries a potential prison sentence of 30 years to life, Anderson said.

"The disgusting ... part you can't even put into words (is) that there are people out there who are willing to engage in this just like Mr. Thomas," she said. "Without the Alliance Police Department responding here, who knows who would have responded to the ad, so it's really scary."

When an undercover officer with the Alliance police department contacted Thomas about the online inquiry and asked how old a girl, Thomas replied, "the younger the better, something in the 5-8 range would be good," according to documents filed in federal court.

After the undercover officer responded to the advertisement, Thomas wrote back: "Hello, and thank you for taking the time to read my ad. I am a single male in N.E. Ohio. I am looking for parents that would like to arrange a marriage of their daughter. I hope to talk to someone soon and let's set this up. I will answer any questions you have of me."

Thomas told investigators he intended to groom the child, engage in sexual activity with her and take sexually suggestive pictures, according to the federal charges. Police later seized his computer, videos, guns and other items from his home.

Thomas and the investigator met in a restaurant in Alliance. Then they went outside to the undercover officer's van under the guise of transferring the girl to Thomas' vehicle.

During the arrest, he said, "I was coming to buy a little girl." In a subsequent police interview, Thomas admitted to his plans, according to papers filed with the case.

The FBI and the Cuyahoga Falls Police Department assisted Alliance police during the arrest and search of Thomas' home.

"This matter received the highest priority treatment by all agencies as warranted by a case of this nature," said Jennifer Arnold, Alliance law director.

Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said his office "remains committed to working with the FBI and all our law enforcement partners to defend our children and fight human trafficking."