By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Fired editor agrees to guilty plea in kiddie-porn case; News remains mum
George Rodney Woods, a Dallas Morning News sports editor who became the center of an interstate kiddie-porn sting, has agreed to plead guilty to possession of child pornography.
But Dallas' Only Daily has continued to pretend the embarrassing story about one of its own does not exist.
The plea-bargain agreement, filed last month along with a written statement of facts in the case, is to be formally entered Thursday morning in Dallas before U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders.
The filings state that Woods--fired by the News in July--"knowingly possessed at least three video tapes, each of which contained visual depictions of persons under the age of 18 engaged in sexually explicit conduct; the tapes were shipped across state lines." According to the documents, the illegal tapes--including one titled Lolita's Auntie--were discovered during an April 11 search by federal agents of Woods' Mesquite home.
As BeloWatch reported in August, the raid also uncovered a mailing list Woods used to sell sexually explicit adult materials through the mail under the name "LG Enterprises." After discovering that Woods possessed illegal kiddie-porn videotapes, prosecutors and federal agents talking plea bargain enlisted his cooperation in a sting operation based on the mailing list.
With Woods' aid, postal inspectors offered for sale videos purportedly depicting minors engaged in various sex acts, through such specific descriptions as: "13- and 15-year-old girls masturbate, have oral sex with 15-year-old boy." About a dozen of Woods' customers took the bait, triggering undercover operations in seven states and Canada. In three cases, federal officials told BeloWatch, the raids produced evidence that Woods' customers had sexually abused children.
In the seven-page plea agreement, signed on October 11 and filed one day later, Woods waived his right to trial and agreed to provide testimony concerning his "participation in and knowledge of criminal activities."
Woods, 41, did not respond to a call to his home. His federal public defender, Matt Golla, told BeloWatch: "I just have no comment on Mr. Woods' case at this time."
Though formal entering of the plea is scheduled for Thursday, Woods will not learn his fate--to be determined by Judge Sanders--for another 30 to 45 days, following the completion of a pre-sentencing report.
The maximum sentence for the charge Woods faces is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Under the plea agreement, if Woods continues to be helpful, the government will not prosecute him "for other crimes of which the government has knowledge as of the date of this agreement." The U.S. attorney's office presumably also would urge a reduction from the standard sentencing guidelines, making him a candidate for probation.
U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins issued a one-sentence statement to BeloWatch: "Mr. Woods has rendered substantial assistance to this office and others in connection with this investigation and we intend to file a motion with the Court detailing his cooperation."
The court filings show Woods has also agreed to take a polygraph exam if requested and forfeit all items seized in the raid "which are related to the charges against him, including: his computer, two VCRs, two televisions and approximately 113 video tapes."
What prompted the original raid of Woods' home remains a mystery, since the affidavit justifying that search remains under seal in the federal courthouse in downtown Dallas.
The entire saga, remarkably, has yet to draw a word of coverage from The Dallas Morning News. The paper fired Woods in early July, after editors inadvertently learned of a court filing in an Alabama courthouse that traced an Alabama raid on the trailer home of an alleged child abuser back to the search of Woods' house in Mesquite.
A reporter for a small Alabama daily had called the News, seeking information about the Texas connection to the local case; News editors reportedly didn't take long to realize the "Texas connection" was one of their own.
Federal agents told BeloWatch in August that the News had agreed to publish nothing about the situation, to protect the ongoing sting operation.
Yet the News has continued its total blackout on the story even though the sting ended more than a month ago--and the plea documents in the case were publicly filed on October 12.
Dallas Morning News publisher-editor Burl Osborne did not return a BeloWatch call for comment.
The obvious question: Would this extraordinary tale have escaped the News' coverage if Woods were, say, an assistant city manager or assistant school superintendent--instead of a former assistant sports editor at Dallas' Only Daily? Considering the international scope of the sting--and its target, child pornography--how could the city's paper of record ignore it?
Woods is best-known to News readers as author of the weekly "Fantasy Sports" and "Sports Collecting" columns. After working at the News for nine years, he 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" in the News called Woods "one of our most valuable players" and noted: "Woods is a rabid collector."
But Woods' tenure in Houston lasted only 11 months. He returned to the News as a columnist and copy editor in late September 1994; he later had responsibility for putting the News' football coverage on the Prodigy on-line service.