Source: Houston Chronicle
Author: Harvey Rice
Date: June 10, 2015
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GALVESTON - In the medical community, Dr. Dennis Patrick Hughes helped children as a pediatric oncologist at one of the nation's top cancer hospitals, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. In his Pearland neighborhood, he was known as a loving husband and father of three who helped coach his son's Little League team and sang to classes at the Catholic school his children attended.
But court testimony Wednesday presented another side to Hughes - that of a man who, during sleepless nights, used the name Achmed to troll through an international network of child pornography sites and billboards using special software to conceal his IP address, the electronic signature that allows his computer to be traced.
What he didn't know is that federal investigators in Virginia had taken over a server in the United States that was part of the porn network. The balding, innocuous-appearing Yale medical school graduate was swept up in an international child pornography investigation spanning several countries.
The details of Hughes' alleged addiction - provided in testimony by an FBI agent who interviewed his wife and was present when other agents interviewed him - and his arrest on charges of possessing thousands of computer files of child pornography were revealed during his appearance in federal court in Galveston.
Hughes, whose Pearland home was raided Friday by FBI agents and police officers, entered the courtroom wearing a green jail jumpsuit, handcuffs and sandals. U.S. Magistrate Judge John Froeschner set Hughes' bail at $50,000 with strict conditions, including a ban on the use of computers or devices connected to the Internet and a requirement that a third party other than his wife be present when he is with children other than his own.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Zack told Froeschner that there was no information that Hughes had molested children, but she argued against his release, saying he could turn to molesting children once his pornography was taken away. Froeschner pointed out that Hughes would be strictly monitored and required to seek court permission to visit places where children were present.
Defense Attorney Neal Davis characterized Hughes as a "good man in a terrible situation." Hughes spent the last 10 years of his life helping children, Brock said. He told the judge, "What he did was wrong, but what he needs is help."
Zack has 30 days to persuade a grand jury to indict Hughes. If convicted, he faces five to 20 years imprisonment.
Davis said Wednesday evening: "As is the custom in federal criminal cases we are pleading not guilty, but I expect that we will resolve this case with prosecutors."
Testimony by FBI agent Kelly Berry revealed that investigators in Virginia traced Hughes' IP address to Houston and turned the information over to the Texas City FBI office.
Agents obtained Hughes' name and home address from his Internet provider, then got a search warrant for his house in the upscale Silverlake planned community, a hundred yards from the private Southwyck Golf Club greenway.
Last Friday, Hughes answered the door and invited the agents inside, stunning his wife, Clair, and their two sons and daughter, ages 5 to 9.
"This was probably the worst day of your life?" Davis asked Clair Hughes after she took the witness stand to testify at Wednesday's hearing.
"Yes," she answered.
She said she had no inkling that her husband was viewing pornographic images. Hughes was assistant coach for his son's Little League team, but his application to become coach was denied after he pushed a player to the ground in a dispute over baserunning, Berry testified, based on FBI interviews with the couple.
In addition to singing at his kids' school, he took photos for the school yearbook, the production of which was entrusted to his wife. This summer, he was scheduled to teach an art class and coach his son's basketball team, Berry said.
The agent said Hughes readily admitted to viewing child pornography since the early 1990s and told agents where to find it. Under questioning by defense attorney Davis, Berry said Hughes appeared relieved to have been caught - and told investigators that he knew what he was doing was wrong and that he had confessed to a priest. Davis said Hughes feared that if he sought professional help to break his addiction, a counselor would be required to inform authorities, causing him to lose his job.
"He was afraid his marriage would explode," Davis added.
M.D. Anderson police helped investigators by searching Hughes' computer at work, where they discovered child pornography, Berry said.
There was no indication that Hughes downloaded the pornography while at work, the agent said, though it was possible the images could have come from a flash drive inserted for viewing.
M.D. Anderson, where Hughes is a tenured professor, suspended him with pay and has sent letters to his patients informing them of his arrest.
"There is nothing based upon the information we have that this involves any of our patients," hospital spokeswoman Julie Penne said.
Texas Medical Board spokesman Jarrett Schneider said complaints against doctors are confidential. He declined to say whether the board was aware of the investigation before Hughes' arrest but said it might take action that could include suspension or restriction of his medical license. Mihir Zaveri contributed to this report.