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Rice quits outlets post

February 23, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Thomas D. Rice has resigned as Blue Ridge Outlet Center general manager and said Tuesday he looks forward to fighting charges he attempted to have sex with a 13-year-old boy.

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Rice, 58, of Martinsburg, was arrested on Saturday outside an elementary school in Bedford County, Va., about 190 miles from Martinsburg. He was accused of arranging a sexual encounter over the Internet with an undercover police officer posing as a boy, according to the Bedford County Sheriff's Office.

"The legal battle I face will be all time-consuming and I look forward to fighting these charges, as I will," Rice said Tuesday in a faxed release.

"I do not expect my employer to suffer negative consequences due to the pending court action against me in the state of Virginia," Rice said in the release.

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Rice said he had worked with Martinsburg developer Moncure Chatfield-Taylor, the developer of the outlet center, for nearly 15 years and "He and his family are my friends and will remain my close friends."

The resignation from the Chatfield-Taylor Corporation and all affiliated companies "was not requested or required, it was volunteered and is in the best interest of the business, its investors and its employees," Rice said in the release.

Police charged Rice with two felony counts of attempted indecent liberties with a child under the age of 14 and one felony count of attempted crimes against nature with a child under the age of 14.

Rice was released from a Virginia jail Monday on $10,000 bond.

A prominent figure in the West Virginia Democratic Party, Rice was chief of operations under former Gov. Gaston Caperton and served on the state Racing Commission.

In the fax, Rice referred questions to Harry Garrett, his attorney in Bedford.

Garrett could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The arrest stemmed from the Bedford County Sheriff's Department Crimes Against Children on the Internet program, in which undercover officers try to catch pedophiles using the computer network.

So far, two men have been prosecuted in Bedford County since the program began about a year ago, said Commonwealth's Attorney Randy Krantz. About six other cases have been referred to prosecutors in other parts of the country, said Krantz.

John Godoy, a Pennsylvania software company worker, pleaded guilty last December to using the Internet to transmit explicit images of children to an undercover officer, Krantz said.

As part of a plea agreement, Godoy received a 10-year suspended sentence, 10 years probation and credit for 45 days already served in jail, said Krantz. He also was banned from using the Internet for 10 years.

Former Virginia Tech worker Thomas Brooks Jenkins pleaded guilty last summer to child pornography distribution charges, said Krantz.

The prosecution wanted the judge to sentence him to 10 years in prison, but the judge suspended the sentence and gave Jenkins five years probation, said Krantz.

"We haven't had anyone plead not guilty yet. I think it would be a different story if the case were in front of a jury," said Krantz.

This most recent case marks the first time the Bedford County Internet sting program has resulted in criminal charges of trying to arrange a sexual encounter with a child, said Krantz.

A preliminary hearing was set for April 29 at 9:30 a.m. in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court in Bedford.

A conviction on each of the charges would carry a 5-year maximum prison sentence and a $2,500 fine.

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