Prosecutors: Man created child porn during backyard 'splash parties'; at least 30 victims
A Chevy Chase man frequently hosted backyard "splash parties" as part of an elaborate ruse to film children changing, showering, and relieving themselves.
Federal authorities have charged Jonathan Oldale with multiple counts of producing child pornography.
On Friday, the 54-year-old was ushered into court by U.S. Marshals for his initial hearing at the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. He wore a black shirt, dark blue jeans, sandals, black frame glasses, and perhaps most notably, his wedding ring. Despite the damning allegations, Oldale appeared calm and quiet.
The case dates back to May 2017, when an employee at the Silver Stars Gymnastics Club in Silver Spring located a pinhole camera in the gym's unisex lobby bathroom. Staff immediately called police, and shared their belief that Oldale had intentionally placed the camera in the restroom for nefarious purposes. Oldale's two sons — ages nine and 11 — were enrolled in gymnastics class there.
Days later, Montgomery County Police, battering ram in hand, served a search warrant at Oldale's home along Greystone Street in the Somerset area of Chevy Chase.
During the first search, officers located hard drives and other electronic devices that allegedly contained professional "cleaning software" to help scrub computer files and search history. They also uncovered "Tor Browser," which grants a user access to the "dark web" where child pornography runs rife and IP addresses are tough to trace.
"Someone can go into an entry node in the dark web, your signal gets bounced around, comes out an exit node, and no one can tell who's looking at what," U.S. Assistant Attorney Joseph Baldwin stated in court.
Baldwin also cited "shellbags," which maintain the size, view, icon, and position of a folder, even after it has been removed from a computer. Such shellbags reportedly unearthed items on Oldale's electronics with names like, "child's play," "jailbait cam," and "PTHC," which stands for pre-teen hardcore.
Then in July, a second search warrant reportedly produced a number of surveillance cameras and SD memory cards. Some of those cameras were located in a bathroom — one mounted in the sink vanity, another in the shower, both seemingly positioned at the height of a child's waistline.
Investigators reviewed hundreds of hours of video and were astonished to find many clips of elementary school age children changing, showering and relieving themselves. Prosecutors revealed there are at least 30 child victims. Montgomery County Police have worked tirelessly to identify many of the kids, but have not yet completed the terribly thorny task.
"Different children do different things, your honor, but there are plenty of naked children," Baldwin remarked about the cache of clips.
According to prosecutors, Oldale was known for hosting backyard summer splash camps with a "Slip 'N Slide." His two sons would invite their friends to the seemingly innocent warm-weather gathering. When the kids got dirty in the mud and grass, Oldale would allegedly tell them to take a shower. It was all in attempt to add to his collection of child porn, prosecutors allege.
"There was an environment setup, and a situation setup, that was primed to create these videos," Baldwin added.
In one instance, a young child located a spy camera within a toilet bowl, brought the gadget to Oldale, who allegedly stuck it back in the toilet. The entire sequence of events, captured by the recording device. Other clips reportedly show Oldale setting up the various cameras in the bathroom, and checking their respective angles.
"These cameras were placed at positions where they could observe the pubic area of these children as they are taking showers and changing,” Baldwin stated.
Following the first raid, investigators allege Oldale continued his bathroom surveillance of children, despite knowing he was under investigation. Cops also reviewed the 54-year-old's purchase history, and note that Oldale bought more cameras than police have recovered. That’s led many to wonder where the additional cameras (some capable of transmitting video via WiFi and Bluetooth) may currently be.
As a rebuttal, defense attorney Laura Rhodes explained her client is a native of England, PhD-educated scholar, accomplished author, and a stay-at-home dad, who cherishes two boys. Oldale's wife, Alison, who was present in court, is the breadwinner, working full-time as an economist for the federal government. Rhodes revealed that tension had been mounting in the couple's relationship for quite some time, due in part, to different parenting methods and child behavioral issues.
"Unusual as it may seem... the only way Mr. Oldale saw fit to take care of his anxiety — and he felt he was going to lose access to his kids an all these children he had around who adored him — was this bizarre acting out that he did," Rhodes added.
Following both law enforcement raids, Oldale began seeking regular sex offender therapy with a doctor at Johns Hopkins, plus couples counseling with his wife. Rhodes suggested the treatment has generated "tremendous strides" and diminished the likelihood of future deviant conduct.
"John has really made some horrible decisions, and done some very concerning things, and there are going to be some consequences,” Alison Oldale stated before the court. "I would just like to ask for more time for us as a family to heal a bit, for them to have something resembling a calm family life to build up some resilience to better be able to cope with whatever lies ahead."
Rhodes underscored that her client has no prior criminal records and is not accused of touching any children. If granted bond, she stated Oldale would be willing to abstain from electronic use and submit to routine polygraph tests. To sweeten the deal, the couple owns their $1.1. home outright, and could use that capital as collateral.
In giving his summation, U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Sullivan acknowledged the "constellation of problems" that the Oldale family is currently addressing, and expressed concern about the impact of recent events on their two young boys.
"These kids never asked for this," Judge Sullivan remarked. "You can't choose your parents."
Yet, Judge Sullivan appeared genuinely confused as to why a person with so much promise and education, would act so foolishly.
"They're living in a very affluent community within a very affluent county, and may seem like they have life all wrapped up, but he engages in this kind of behavior... Just that blatant violation of a person's privacy. It's almost like you can't even comprehend it."
Judge Sullivan offered an aside about the seeming "admissions" of guilt made by the defense at an initial hearing, a rare move, but then again, most cases do not contain such vast valleys of visual evidence.
"One doesn't wake up and engage in this kind of conduct. This conduct is deeply-deeply disturbing and absolutely sends a chill up the spine of any parent... And it violates the trust, the social code, the morality code, of parents trusting other parents," Judge Sullivan opined before ordering Oldale be detained pending his trial, which has not yet been set.
The sting could be seen on Oldale's face. He briefly turned to his wife and whispered a few words. The disgraced "family man" faces a maximum of 30 years in federal prison, meaning he could be incarcerated until he is 84.
Although a pinhole camera was located at Silver Stars Gymnastics Club, investigators have not been able to recover any videos from that device. Instead, the gym's observant staff member, is being heralded for unraveling this alleged well-disguised child porn operation.