Police became suspicious earlier this month when they came upon a man taking pictures of two boys he met in a Belleville park for a supposed magazine shoot.
Belleville detectives on Wednesday said a review of the memory cards in the man's camera gear has turned up hundreds of pornographic images. And St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly has filed child pornography charges against the suspect, 39-year-old Joseph E. Suggs of Belleville.
Belleville Police Detective Sgt. Mark Heffernan gave the following account:
On June 7, police were called to the 100 block of South 44th Street, in the area of an abandoned building, for a report of suspicious activity. When they arrived, they located Suggs, accompanied by two boys, ages 13 and 16.
Suggs had a camera, and said he owned a photography business. Suggs told police he was taking pictures of the boys as part of his business.
The boys told police that Suggs approached them in Bellevue Park and asked if he could photograph them for a magazine. The boys said he offered to pay them. The boys agreed, and accompanied Suggs to the area of the abandoned building.
Officers conducted an initial search of the photographs of the boys, but there were no pornographic images. So police issued him an ordinance violation for disorderly conduct, based on the manner in which he approached the boys. He was taken to headquarters and processed, and his memory cards were secured as evidence.
Belleville detectives then began investigating Suggs' contact with juvenile males, and got search warrants for reviewing the memory cards. Heffernan said the review turned up "hundreds" of pornographic images.
"The images appear to have been taken in Bellevue Park and in the suspect's vehicle," Heffernan said.
He added that the boys might have been photographed on more than one occasion.
"We believe there may have been more than one instance with these particular victims that we've identified," Hefferman said.
Detectives arrested Suggs on Monday at his place of employment, a restaurant in the 4400 block of West Main Street. Police also secured a warrant to search his resident in the 3400 block of Sheridan Avenue in Belleville.
"During the search, several other items were located that could lead to more charges," Heffernan said. "This investigation into the items located at Suggs' residence is ongoing."
Heffernan said the review so far has turned up images of only the two boys involved in the initial call. But he added: "We're just scratching the surface in this case. We have an enormous amount of electronic data to go through that we haven't been through yet."
Suggs was charged with one count of manufacturing child pornography, two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, and one count of possession of child pornography. The most serious charge, manufacturing child pornography, is a class 1 felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Bail for Suggest was set at $200,000. He remained in custody Wednesday afternoon at Belleville Police Department.