A fired editor in The Dallas Morning News sports department is at the center of an interstate child-pornography sting operation, BeloWatch has learned.
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.
Higgins was charged with six counts of violating federal child pornography statutes. Prosecutors are also seeking court-ordered forfeiture of his 1986 mobile home.
Rogersville police chief Roy Henson told BeloWatch Higgins is also under investigation for state child-abuse charges. Higgins remains in custody without bond on the federal charges.
Higgins' arrest in tiny Rogersville, a town of 3,000 about 80 miles west of Huntsville, made big headlines in the local paper, the Florence Times Daily. In pursuing the story, reporters for the 30,000-circulation paper reportedly discovered an affidavit in the federal courthouse in Huntsville explaining the trail that led to Higgins.
The document--which courthouse clerks now say is not part of the public record--traced that trail back to George Woods in Mesquite.
"They were correspondents," says postal inspector Hedrick. "There was an investigation of Mr. Woods. Information about Mr. Higgins was found during the investigation of Mr. Woods. As a result of that, we contacted Mr. Higgins, who thought we were Mr. Woods."
"If your name had been in Mr. Woods' home," says Hedrick, "we would have investigated you."
BeloWatch has been told that editors at the Alabama newspaper--who didn't know of Woods' daytime employment--then called counterparts at the Morning News, soliciting their collaboration in investigating the Texas connection to the Higgins case. It apparently didn't take long for News editors to make the link with their own employee.
Woods was fired. His last byline appeared on July 10.
Though the News may have had access to the federal affidavit, it has published nothing about what happened. Woods' name also was mentioned in at least one article, on June 30, in the Alabama daily.
It remains to be seen what Dallas' Only Daily will publish when the sting involving one of its own is over.
Woods, meanwhile, awaits his fate.
Agents say that after receiving approval from Washington, they expect to finalize a plea-bargain agreement with him soon, and will recommend leniency because of his cooperation.