The Mascoutah priest facing child-porn charges used an email address with the prefix “subpigboy4u” to exchange images via the internet, according to police documents.
The police documents, obtained Friday by the News-Democrat, say the Rev. Gerald Hechenberger paid to join porn-sharing sites, had leather chaps in his possession when arrested, and sent messages to others seeking to exchange pornography.
“Saw the ad you posted a couple days ago seeking to host a big man. I live in the Metro East, am 6’2”, 350, have a salt and pepper beard, smooth body and am definitely a bottom,” Hechenberger wrote in one message, according to the documents.
The message continues, “You sound very interesting. I’d love to find out more about you and what you are into. I am for real and have pix to trade if you are interested.”
A separate message stated: “Hello u gorgeous hot stud! Here are some pix u will enjoy i hope ... oink!”
Hechenberger, an associate pastor at Holy Childhood Catholic Church, was taken into custody Monday and charged with 16 counts of possession and dissemination of child pornography and one count of possession of methamphetamine. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
According to affidavits filed in support of search warrants, Belleville police first received a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a nonprofit organization that frequently makes information available to law enforcement in order to fight online child abuse.
There was no indication in the affidavits that Hechenberger was suspected of producing the child porn images or abusing local children.
The organization pointed police toward an Internet Protocol address that they observed was uploading explicit images of child pornography online. Police were then able to link the images to a cellphone, which in turn they said was linked to a Facebook profile for a “Jerry Hechenberger” that appeared to be a possible match to the Mascoutah priest.
According to the documents, they also connected the account to an email address and online profile, which they connected to other images and correspondence with others online. In accessing the email account, police said they found several messages where Hechenberger was allegedly sharing pictures of himself, of adult pornography, and multiple images of child pornography with other users.
The email account had subscribed to several adult services, sometimes paying online in euros. One email to subpigboy4u was a billing statement that indicated the user’s payment made him a “Star Member” of an online adult service.
The images were graphically described in the affidavits, including multiple images of adults in sexual contact with prepubescent children and an infant. One image depicted an adult male urinating on a boy.
Belleville police filed for warrants to search Hechenberger’s Mascoutah home, which was the parish rectory, and his 2005 Ford Crown Victoria in mid-December. It was less than a day before police received the warrants for the cellphone records, which tied it to a phone billed to a third party, according to the documents.
Police detailed that in the search, they found a Sprint AirCard, drug paraphernalia and methamphetamine, a Samsung smartphone, digital camera, and a pair of leather chaps and straps in a green bag in Hechenberger’s house. In the car they found his wallet and debit card — the last four digits of which matched a card used to pay for some of the adult site subscriptions, according to the court records.
The details of the Hechenberger investigation are laid out in police affidavits obtained Friday by the Belleville News-Democrat. The documents had been sealed — meaning unavailable to the public — but the newspaper went to court to get access to the documents.
Hechenberger has been placed on leave from the Catholic Diocese of Belleville and is no longer permitted to perform any duties as a priest. He also was an associate pastor at St. Pancratius Parish in Fayetteville and St. Liborius Parish in St. Libory at the time of his arrest.
The Rev. Paul R. Wienhoff, the pastor at Holy Childhood Catholic Church, said the church community was “heartbroken” after learning of the criminal charges against Hechenberger, and counseling services were offered to parish members, as well as a healing service that took place Thursday.
A longtime friend of Hechenberger, Belleville attorney Anne Hannigan, said the church was aware of Hechenberger’s alleged drug problem about five years ago and did not offer him help in fighting his addiction. She blames drugs for Hechenberger’s alleged behavior.
“He has never, ever mentioned anything to me about having an interest in kids,” she said. “And I think he got caught up with some persons on the internet, and that’s how he ended up with the pictures. And he just did a stupid thing, and it was a result of the drug addiction.”
Meanwhile, Barbara Dorris, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the church failed the community when it placed Hechenberger in another parish despite “obvious issues.” She cited a 2004 arrest when Hechenberger was charged with trespassing at a Madison truck stop. He was asked to leave but then came back and was seen walking between trucks at a truck stop “holding his pants in his hand and had no shirt on,” according to the police report. He was taken into custody and eventually fined $100 and placed under court supervision for 30 days.
“There’s enough red flags,” Dorris said. “If he has depression and he’s found wandering at a truck stop and being charged with trespassing, that means he has some issues. Why would you put him in contact with some of the most vulnerable members of society?”
Red flags for troubled priests, Dorris said, include abrupt and frequent transfers of priests from one church to another.
In 2011, Hechenberger abruptly left St. John’s Catholic Church in Smithton, where he was the pastor. In a letter in the church’s bulletin, he said he was leaving due to depression. In a letter from the Rev. John McEvilly, vicar general of the Belleville diocese, church officials said the leave was to address “very serious personal, pastoral and legal challenges.”
McEvilly’s letter also stated, “In the present climate, it is important for you to know that the serious matters we are addressing do not involve the abuse of a minor.”