By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The former editor is George Woods, 41. Woods lost his job in early July, BeloWatch has been told, after the News inadvertently learned of a court document, filed in an Alabama federal courthouse, that traced an Alabama kiddie-porn raid back to evidence discovered during a search of Woods' home in Mesquite, Texas.
Officials say they discovered illegal child pornography in Woods' home during the April search, as well as a mailing list Woods used to sell legal adult materials under the name "LG Enterprises."
The sting began when postal inspectors, using Woods' mailing list, offered for sale videos depicting minors engaged in various sex acts. About a dozen of Woods' customers took the bait, leading to undercover operations in seven states and Canada. In three cases, the raids produced evidence that the customers had sexually abused children, federal officials say.
No charges have been filed against Woods, who has cooperated extensively with U.S. postal inspectors; investigators say they have no evidence Woods distributed kiddie porn himself or engaged in any child abuse. They also say that, if he continues to cooperate, they expect to reach a plea-bargain agreement with him on the federal charge of possessing pornographic materials depicting minors.
The lightest charge Woods would face carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He could be eligible for probation.
Woods did not return Observer calls seeking comment. His attorney, assistant federal public defender Matt Golla, also failed to return calls.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda Groves, who is handling Woods' case, declined comment. The affidavit justifying the search warrant for Woods' home remains under seal in the federal courthouse in downtown Dallas.
The News has published nothing about the case, reportedly to avoid jeopardizing the ongoing "sting" operation, expected to conclude at the end of this week.
News executive sports editor Dave Smith referred a BeloWatch call to Executive Editor Ralph Langer. Langer did not return calls.
Woods, reportedly a favorite of Smith, was best-known to News Sports Day readers as author of the weekly "Fantasy Sports" and "Sports Collecting" columns. After working at the News for nine years, Woods rose to the post of assistant sports editor before resigning in June 1993 to become sports editor of the Houston Post.
Upon his departure, a gushing "Sports Editor's Memo" published in the paper declared: "We are losing one of our most valuable players." The column noted that Woods had done everything from serving as commissioner of the paper's fantasy football league to presiding over high school sports coverage to overseeing special sections.
It also noted: "Much of Woods' packing will consist of hundreds of thousands of baseball cards, and hundreds of records, sports magazines and sports books.
"Woods is a rabid collector."
But Woods' tenure in Houston lasted only about a year.
By July 1994, he was back on staff at the News, writing the "Fantasy Sports" column, among other duties. He was listed as a "special contributor" just one month later, before reappearing as a News staffer in the paper's pages in late September.
Woods became the subject of two more back-patting "Sports Editor's memos." One noted his role in putting the "Dallas Morning News' Pro Football Report" on the Prodigy on-line service. A second celebrated his coverage of the final days of the Boston Garden.
That piece came on April 2, 1995. Federal agents would raid his Mesquite home later that month.
With the affidavit justifying the search of Woods' residence sealed, it remains unclear how he became the target of government scrutiny.
But investigators' interest increased when they learned about the sideline business Woods ran from his home, offering adult materials for sale through the mail. Woods had advertised his wares in a classified ad in Video magazine; the ad listed a post office box for "LG Enterprises."
During the raid, agents also discovered Woods, the "rabid collector," had been collecting kiddie porn.
The agents then took over "LG Enterprises"--including Woods' post office box. They wrote about two dozen of his customers, posing as LG Enterprises and offering them explicit videotapes depicting sex acts involving children.
The materials carried such titles as Lolita Learns. To keep the targets from later claiming they were unaware that the material they were buying was explicit, the solicitations for the videos, priced at $70-95 apiece, included specific descriptions of their contents, such as: "13- and 15-year-old girls masturbate, have oral sex with 15-year-old boy."
Several customers on Woods' list placed orders. Agents then planned "controlled deliveries," in which they searched the homes of the kiddie-porn purchasers immediately after they accepted delivery of the material.
Agents say they have carried out raids in Houston; Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; Chicago; San Diego; New York, and Toronto.
But the sting that would end Woods' tenure at the News took place on June 20, in Rogersville, Alabama, at the trailer home of Robert Eugene Higgins, a 48-year-old janitor at an Alabama nuclear plant.
U.S. Postal Inspector Beryl Hedrick, based in Birmingham, says agents discovered so much pornography in Higgins' 60-foot-long trailer "it required a two-ton postal truck to haul the material from his residence." But they also say they discovered something else: graphic videotapes of Higgins engaging in sexual acts with minors.